Pastor Steve's Page

December 2020 Caller Article

The story as commonly told about “historical criticism” of the Bible is that it grew out of deep curiosity about the language, form, and content of the Bible spawned by the new era of scientific investigations in all realms of knowledge beginning in the post-Renaissance 17th century. This is not the case. When it comes to popular attitudes toward the Bible and its veracity we tend to think, “back in the good old days” people respected the Bible and treasured it. Unconsciously, good old days are normally those days just out of reach of our life or memory. The nearest they come is to our childhood. But more than 300 years ago, most scholars in Europe of all kinds were deeply skeptical of the Bible and automatically considered it historically unreliable, stylistically crude, and narratively childish.

Most scholars considered that it was no longer worth examination. This was mostly a result of the failure of Protestant and Catholic pundits to resolve their controversial disagreements. But the part of the story that is not often told, because it’s only recently been discerned, is that German (first) and British (later) scholars and professors engendered a project of looking at the Bible not in a confessional sense but through a cultural viewpoint. This is akin to courses still sometimes offered in American universities, “The Bible as Literature.”

The mid-18th century needed a cultural center to unify the state, in the different monarchies regnant at the time, and the academics working at the German enlightenment era universities picked up this project and ran with it. It was essentially subjecting the Bible to the same kind of linguistic, antiquarian investigations that had already been used on the classical heritage of Greece and Rome.

The problem is these tools were designed to operate on texts as essentially inert bodies of writing. Historical scholarship laid out Genesis on the table (or Joshua, Proverbs, Isaiah, etc.) and probed and sliced and diced just as they might in tracing the origins, authorship, settled text, and meaning of the Iliad or the Odyssey. As Michael Legaspi says in his The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies, “They used historical research to write the Bible's death certificate while opening, simultaneously, a new avenue for recovering the biblical writings as ancient cultural products capable of reinforcing the values and aims of a new sociopolitical order. The Bible, once decomposed, could be used to fertilize modern culture.”

As someone whose hobby is making compost, I find that last sentence shocking, though unarguable. The point of the Bible is not to support whatever regime wants to use it for a bulwark and a text to shore up the state and its successes, however laudable. One cannot force the Word of God to answer one’s questions. In a very real sense, the Bible questions its reader.

The state, every state, ours included, is tainted with its own aims and purposes, which even if they begin as praiseworthy, quickly or inexorable devolve into power keeping and power growing. Throughout history, the purpose of the state is to protect the wealth and power of those in charge, whether elected, appointed, or, in our world, CEOs and board members of the modern tech behemoths.

God’s word speaks to the contrite heart and the broken spirit, and against the self-conceived titans of the tech industry and others who listen to themselves rather than to Isaiah or Moses or Jesus Christ. This is becoming increasingly clear even in our republic, founded by believers, by and large, and who were not innocents by any means, but who could not have foreseen how the fantastic successes of their project of freedom could be undermined by the wealth created by those very successes.

The world wags on and will continue to do so. We should pray for those who rule this world, whether in government or otherwise, that they may not fall prey to visions of glory and grandeur in thinking they can finally and easily remake the world (in their own image), for those who find themselves in the way of these death-dealing projects are swept away like the autumn leaves clogging the gutters.

The Bible is God’s Word, not the efflorescence of the genius of the Jewish people, or some happenstance wave tossed up from the world’s ocean of literature that caught our attention for a while, but is now of no use to anyone with their own goals and well being to seek. If it is not the Word of God, there is no reason to “study it” with alien tools and goals. The ancient prayer encapsulates it well: BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

DNJ Column 11/29/20 (written 11/17 for 11/22/20)

In 1992 I said, “There’s no way a sitting president who was VP for eight years, has a recent 89% approval rating and won a war in three months can lose to a governor of Arkansas who can’t even give a speech.” Bill Clinton’s speech at the 1988 convention was perceived by Democrats at the time as a real snore. The backstage gnashing of teeth was epic. The convention managers inserted “PLEASE FINISH!” into his teleprompter feed.

Everybody knows the rest of the story. Clinton learned how to give a better speech and I learned, in November of 1992, that my political prognostication skills are, well, certainly not epic. Unless you mean epic fail. I say all this to warn you that I’m about to do it again. My prediction is that Donald Trump will not be the next President of the United States. Now, some of you are ROTFL. I get it. All the MSM have been telling us since BEFORE the election Joe Biden was winning this one.

But you also know there’s been a great deal of questioning of the results by the Trump campaign in several of the swing states. Canadian Conrad Black said in the New York Sun, “We’ve heard comment ad nauseam about the almost unlimited possibility of abuse in such a system (mail-in ballots), compounded by relaxation of voter accuracy verification standards, suspension of genuine oversight capacity in vote counting, concentration of suspect voting patterns in swing states governed by Democrats, early suspension of vote counting followed by miraculous “drops” of large and uneven quantities of votes in the dead of night, and a farrago of other manipulative measures.”

According to Black, “As it stands now, fewer than 40,000 votes switched from the Democratic nominee Joe Biden to Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona would give Mr. Trump 279 electoral votes to Mr. Biden’s 259. If Mr. Biden retained Pennsylvania, and only 25,000 votes shifted from Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, the Electoral College would be tied 269 each, and Mr. Trump would be re-elected by the House of Representatives where each state delegation casts a single vote; Alaska’s congressman has equal weight to California’s 53. The Senate, in that scenario, elects the vice president, and the Republican majority would re-elect Vice President Mike Pence.” But to tell you the truth, I think there are just too many hoops to jump through to expect the election will be “turned around” at this point.

Black’s scenario is like saying, If they took all the sugar out of Coca-Cola, removed the caffeine, made it from fermented barley, distilled it and aged it in barrels you’d have a pretty good beverage. Sure, but ain’t gonna happen. There’s just too much to prove, and when I say prove I don’t mean assert on Twitter, I mean convince a skeptical judge. That’s a different kind of proving. Gen. Michael Flynn is a 3-star (ret.) General whose legal team doesn’t seem to be able to prevail over a (now rather infamous) federal judge, even though the DOJ says they have nothing to prosecute, and have dropped the charges. It’s hard to prove things.

So what will happen? Likely we’ll have a new president in two months time. But he may be like the last VP to win the presidency, the aforementioned GHWB. The GOP will likely hold the Senate by the skin of their teeth, and the Democrats may lose the House in 2022, having already lost 9 seats in the much vaunted “Blue Wave” with five races still unsettled. Of course, this is me, the famous political prognosticator.

But here’s to hoping we get better at holding free, fair, and transparent elections.  And I think the first step in that process is to drop the practice of mailing out unrequested ballots and allowing “ballot harvesting.” Maybe the rest of the country could learn from Tennessee. When too much can go wrong it inevitably does.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church and knows how to work a grocery store self-scanner.

DNJ Column 11/15/20

Trust is the fuel of life. You literally couldn’t get anywhere without it. If you have zero trust in anything you literally can’t get out of bed in the morning. Who knows what might happen? Like Chico Marx said to Margaret Dumont, “Who ya gonna trust, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

          

When I get up in the morning I trust that the floor I’m about to walk on will support me. When I take a shower I trust that water will come out of the nozzle and not benzene. Simple stuff, really, that healthy minded folk don’t think about much because we trust our experience, our memory, we trust we’re not living on the other side of the Looking Glass in Wonderland.

          

I got my flu shot at the MMC yesterday and boy did my arm hurt. Because of my age (shut up), the nurse, I’d tell you her name but you wouldn’t believe me, said I had to get the double dose flu shot. “Hold on,” I say, “why can’t I just get a regular flu shot?” Because of your age, she repeats, with just a tiny bit of an edge in her voice. My wife says I need to get my hearing checked, but I can hear a woman on the edge of losing patience. And I don’t blame the nurse. Who wants a bunch of argy-bargy when you got a zillion more arms to poke?

          

Now I’ve never been an anti-vaxxer, I think 250 years of vaccine practice shows the general reliability of the concept of the vaccine. But I also don’t want to be first in line for the new Coronavirus vaccine. Why is that? Trust. Or rather, lack of it.

          

Trust is complicated. Stranger walks up on the sidewalk and says “Would you hold this bag of $5,000 for me while I go in the bank there? When I come back you can have half of it.” Haha, 911, please. But I trusted the nurse because she was working from my Doctor’s orders. I’ve seen the same Dr. there for more than 10 years. I like the guy. I trust him. He asks questions when I go in for a checkup and he listens. He sits down. He doesn’t act like he’s in a big hurry. Trust grows with time and becomes stronger.

         

I’m not sure I trust Pfizer and the FDA. Too big, too far away. You trust what you can know. One reason I don’t trust them is the timing of this bombshell announcement yesterday about the virus vaccine. Less than a week after an election day is an odd time to have this kind of breakthrough, given that the virus may have been the driving issue for at least a plurality of voters.

          

Now why would I accuse Pfizer or the FDA of such partisan machinations? Well, I don’t. What do I know? I….just….wonder. Neither I nor you know anything of their motivations. Maybe it’s all on the up and up. I do know that the president made some enemies for touting and supporting a $37 drug versus the alternative, a $3,120 drug for treating the virus.

         

And I know that the president announced a plan to change the high rates Medicare has to pay for drugs compared to what the same drugs are sold for overseas. Was there some animus that drove the delay in announcing the (90% effective!) vaccine? I have no idea. But you see how trust can be undermined and corroded over time.

          

A husband betrays his wife. Once. He begs forgiveness. She forgives him. Does she trust him? Ha. Should she? Ha. Trust, like taxable interest, is earned over time. Trust is the glue of society. Right now half the country doesn’t trust the major media on the election results. Why? See husband above. Trust doesn’t bounce back like the stock market seems to have. Trust is earned. It’s a precious commodity. Don’t waste it.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and his arm is feeling better.

DNJ Column, 11/08/20

 

There are certain words that live in the shadowlands of contemporary distaste; piety and pious are among them. Like Hagar of old (Genesis 21), they have been cast out, to wander friendless. But also like Hagar, they have not been forgotten. The disdain visited upon them is obvious in dictionaries, for they betray the footprints of ideological journey.

          

That monument of erudition, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives us this for piety: “a sanctimonious statement; a commonplace.” And for its corresponding adjective, pious, we read “hypocritically virtuous; self-righteous; sanctimonious.” These are not the only meanings listed, but they are there.

          

I’ve been thinking about the general category of piety because of a couple of writers, one being Robert Louis Wilken in his article The Church as Culture, from First Things in 2004, and the other James Hankins, in an article for the current issue of First Things journal.

          

Hankins mentions the OED’s character assassination of a perfectly good word, and he reminded me of Wilken’s reflection on how the church’s beliefs about place and time are incarnated in art and architecture and the calendar. Piety is a singularly appropriate term and topic for November, for the first day of the month is traditionally referred to as All Saints’ Day, or in older fashion, All Hallows’ Day (thus, All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween) when all the saints, all those hallowed by the Spirit of God, are remembered, honored and invoked.

          

It’s telling that our secular world has moved the emphasis to the eve of All Saints rather than the day itself. It is the ugliness of the unholy that was to be driven out the day before the Saints were honored in the old culture, but now that ugliness is the foundation of an occasion that defangs wickedness with sugary treats and childlike costumery, before rootless childless adults turned it into their own pornified holiday.

          

One way the church lived the incarnation of the gospel was in organizing our encounter with time by creating the calendar of Advent through Pentecost, a means by which we might order our lives. This is useful when we’re confronted by the chops and changes of Presidential politics every four years. It’s pointless to pretend that politics is not important. In one sense, politics is how we organize the way we relate to groups larger than our family. It can be salutary. And it’s important in a society intended to be self-governed, because, as with this year, there are often stark existential differences in the choices available to us when we vote. And there’s a type of national piety that should bind us together as we remember and honor our war dead who died for our freedom to vote and the many founders who risked their lives in creating this nation.

          

But piety that has “personal density,” to use a Thomas Pynchon term, can reflect not only our personal history, but the history, the insight, the lessons, even the encouragement of others as well.

           

You may celebrate the results of the election; you may mourn them. This is written the day before the election. But always remember, the Christian is not like “the flower of the field, the wind passes over it and it is gone.” Clothed with Jesus Christ, the Christian is a part of eternity. Christians have watched as the Goths poured through the gates of Rome, and stood in the bread lines in the 1930s. Christians have buried entire families during the plagues in Paris and London. Christians live through the same terrors of history as others, with their eyes on the Lord, knowing and trusting that the trumpet will someday sound. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.”

          

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St. and ate absolutely no Halloween candy this year.

DNJ Column 11/1/20

In republican Rome (509-27 BC), voting was in person, male citizens only, and by tribe. One’s “tribe” was originally geographic, but gradually became part of a designation based on one’s father’s tribe. Early in their history, citizens voted either orally, or by proceeding into differently designated areas of the Campus Martius, the Field of Mars, an open area of some 500 acres, down by the Tiber River, upon the banks of which Rome was built.

There were 35 tribes, which operated somewhat like an electoral college, for there was not a one man/one vote system, but a majority within a tribe cast one vote. Once there were 18 tribes in favor, or against, voting was halted.

There were obvious disadvantages with such a system, which was often attended by retaliatory violence. The actual government in that era was operated by a variety of “magistrates,” who were, depending on their office, a combination of a judge and mayor or governor, that is, a mixture of judicial and executive power over their specific remit. These assemblies of citizens at the Campus Martius were a type of “direct democracy,” for their votes were on questions of legislation and for (or against) the candidate(s) for Tribune, which were very prominent officials whose main power was an uncontestable, and thus rarely exercised, veto on the actions of individual magistrates or the Senate as a whole.

These Plebeian Tribunes, or Tribunes of the People, were instituted as a check on the power of the Senate as over against the “people,” and thus the election of Tribunes was very consequential. In 509 BC they had overthrown the last King, Tarquin the Proud, and the Romans’ polity of governance was all about the limits that should and could be placed on power; checks and balances, as it were.

The Plebeian Tribune thus also served as a check on the power of concentrated wealth, represented mainly by the Senate, which was composed of 300-500 of the wealthiest men of ancient pedigree in Rome. The importance of the “voting assemblies” as a means of balancing power among the groups in ancient Rome becomes clearer to the eye of history as we learn that in the 2nd century BC, the secret ballot was instituted, to strengthen the independence of the “pleb,” the citizen of the Republic, from the pressures of the patron, the Senator, and the ancient equivalent of the ward boss.

If the Republic was the “res publica,” the “public thing” or the property of the public, it could only know and maintain legitimacy (per Cicero, himself a Senator) if it is also, clearly and plainly, the “res populi,” the property of the people.

Cicero argued in his “De Re Publica,” (in a summary by Valentina Arena of University College, London) “that in any legitimate form of government, the ‘populus’ should own its own ‘res.’ In order to do so in any meaningful way, it is necessary that the people should possess the right to manage and administer it. This, in turn, is tantamount to the possession of liberty and the ability to exercise it.”

Election day is nigh, if not already past, by the time you read this. Along with all the 183 statues, and monuments pulled down, beheaded or defaced this summer, including some of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, US Grant, George C. Marshall, Frederick Douglass, and Jesus Christ (!), I was interested to see that even Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the US, was cancelled by Princeton University for a whole host of sins retroactively placed upon his shoulders. But I must confess to a smidge of schadenfreude here (“pleasure at the troubles of another”), because Wilson, and to a lesser degree his once removed predecessor Theodore Roosevelt, was responsible for introducing the sub-constitutional notion of unelected, administrative “experts” having more legitimacy in government than the great unwashed, the res populi.

I think we could do with more Plebeian Tribunes. How ‘bout you?

All Gaul is divided into three parts, and Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN.

November Caller Article 

               

There are certain words that live in the shadowlands of contemporary distaste; piety and pious are among them. Like Hagar of old, they have been cast out, to wander friendless. But also like Hagar, they have not been forgotten. The disdain visited upon them is obvious in dictionaries, for they betray the footprints of ideological journey.

         

That monument of erudition, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives us this for piety: “a sanctimonious statement; a commonplace.” And for its corresponding adjective, pious, we read “hypocritically virtuous; self-righteous; sanctimonious.” These are not the only meanings listed, but they are there.

         

I’ve been thinking about the general category of piety because of a couple of writers, one Robert Louis Wilken in his article The Church as Culture, from 2004, and the other by James Hankins, for the current issue of First Things journal

         

Hankins is the one who mentions the OED’s character assassination of a perfectly good word, and he reminded me of Wilken’s reflection on how the church’s beliefs about place and time are incarnated in art and architecture and the calendar. Piety is a singularly appropriate term and topic for November, for the first day of the month is traditionally referred to as All Saints’ Day, or in older fashion, All Hallows’ Day (thus, All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween) when all the saints, all those hallowed by the Spirit of God, are remembered, honored and invoked.

         

It’s telling that our secular world has kept the emphasis on the eve of All Saints rather than the day itself. It is the ugliness of the unholy that was to be driven out the day before the Saints are honored in the old culture, but now that ugliness is the foundation of an occasion that defangs wickedness with sugary treats and childlike costumery, before rootless childless adults turned into their own pornified holiday.

         

Columbus Day, (can you name the date?) is virtually invisible in our world because there’s nothing to buy or sell, but candy and costumes make Halloween a necessisty for our retailers. Just as the virtue of piety has been attacked by dyspeptic lexicographers, reverence has leaked out of most holy days.

         

The church incarnated the gospel by organizing our encounter with time by creating the calendar of Advent through Pentecost, a means by which we might order our lives. This is useful, when we’re confronted by the chops and changes of Presidential politics every four years. It’s pointless to pretend that politics not important. In one sense, politics is how we organize the way we relate to groups larger than our family. It’s necessary. It can be salutary. And it’s important in a society intended to be self-governed, such as our own, because, as with this year, there are often stark existential differences in the choices available to us when we vote. And there’s a type of national piety that should bind us together as we remember and honor our war dead who died for our freedom to vote and the many founders who risked their lives in creating this nation.

         

But piety that is informed by a thick history, a piety that has “personal density,” to use a Thomas Pynchon term, can reflect not only our personal history, but the history, the insight, the lessons, even the encouragement of others.

           

You may celebrate the results of the election, you may mourn them. But always remember, the Christian is not like “the flower of the field, the wind passes over it and it is gone.” Clothed with Jesus Christ, you are now part of eternity. Your brother, your sister, has watched as the Goths poured through the gates of Rome. He has stood in the bread lines in the 1930. She has buried her entire family during the plagues in Paris or London. They lived through the terror of history, with their eyes on the Lord, knowing and trusting that the trumpet will someday sound. So can, and so will you. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.”

DNJ Column 10/11/20

 

Most Americans have at least tried to read the Bible. There’s a reason scripture is often confusing. As a matter of fact, if you’re not confused at some point, it might be fair to say you’re doing it wrong. Richard White was a professor of Preaching at Lexington Seminary years ago, and used to say the first thing to acknowledge when reading the Bible to prepare a sermon was “I don’t know what this means.”

“I don’t know what happened, how it happened, why it happened, what it means that it happened, what lesson it teaches, what it might address in modern life, why it should be preached on.” White goes on to say, “If I (think I) know what the content and meaning, etc., of the text are, then I’m proceeding from my knowledge, and not from the text.”

To me this seems to be a healthy, faithful, if difficult and challenging, way of reading the Bible, whether one is writing a sermon or not. The underlying premise of this method is that the Bible really is God’s Word, and not mine. Meaning, his communication, his revelation.

A couple of months ago, in addition to sending out the sermon, my column, and daily devotions to people on the church email list, I began sending out a selection of jokes and humor along the lines of the old Readers Digest column, “Laughter’s the Best Medicine” (which is a Biblical allusion, by the way, Proverbs 17:22). I like jokes and wish I was better at telling them. There’s a knack. Telling jokes makes people laugh. If you make people laugh, they’re disarmed for the moment. We like people who make us laugh. I like to be liked. Don’t you?

Much of my relationship with my father in my teen years was predicated on keeping him laughing. My Dad laughing was the high point of my day. If I could keep him laughing, I was the star of the dinner table. My older brother was usually getting chewed out for something he did in school, as I recall. I was trying to avoid that and get on Dad’s good side.

Preaching a sermon is different. A little humor’s OK, but it’s not the point of the sermon. With a sermon, I have a mandate from outside myself. It’s like taking someone’s money and having a mandate to protect it from loss and make it grow at the same time. A fiduciary relationship. Like the parable of the talents, we too often stick with burying it, for protection.

The Bible is God’s Word, and the church’s book. It is an inheritance, a legacy, and a deposit of faith. We must hear it, we must read it, we must proclaim it. But we may not, we cannot, control it. Those who attempt that wind up shipwrecked. It may take a few centuries, but God’s timing is not our timing. To God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

When we interact with God’s Word, we interact with God himself. This is one of the predicates of the Doctrine of the Trinity. All through the Old Testament, we hear about the Hand of the Lord, the Arm of the Lord, the Word of God. These are instantiations of God himself, though at the same time other than God. They reflect the mystery of Trinity in the confusing one is three and three is one formulation.

It’s like a set of Russian dolls one inside the other. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. His life and work and words communicate to us in a variety of ways, who God is and what he wills. God speaks and worlds exist. And even, especially, when Jesus Christ is silent, dead on the cross, God is shouting to the world, this is who I am!

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro on E. Main St. Send your jokes to steven.odom@gmail.com.

DNJ Column 10/4

 

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing . . .”

We sang that traditional hymn in worship recently, and I think I was not the only one who noticed and was saddened by how few had gathered.

These have been confusing times, and we have each adjusted our activities and habits, including our church-going habits, in an effort to be conscientious citizens and safe-guarders of the health of others. Every household in a church family has different circumstances to consider and different health statuses to protect. But at this point, I want to consider with you where churches around the country and the world have been these past six months.

On May 31, after an unprecedented 10-week closure which included Easter Sunday, my congregation returned to in-person worship. Many in California and elsewhere are still closed, on penalty of fines, or threats of permanent closure. I don’t think Tennesseans would put up with that kind of government overreach. We have taken practical and common-sense measures, to prevent infections.

Since the first Covid case was reported in Rutherford County on March 15, we have had no reported Covid cases connected to our congregation. We’re small, of course, and there’s plenty of room to spread out. But it appears that what we all are learning over time is that as the virus passes through “the herd,” the risk to life and health becomes not as extreme as previously believed; it exists, but it is on a par with other risks that we willingly accept every day, and it can be mitigated further with simple precautions.

I think we need to recognize that no one is going to blow the “all-clear” and formally authorize a return to church attendance. There will never be a perfect vaccine. There will be a large portion of the population who refuse to get any Covid vaccine. An initial vaccine may not be as effective as many would wish. New viruses most likely will continue to arise to threaten our health in the future. Some will be no deadlier than the seasonal flu. Others will present scary unknowns, as Covid has.

The Church must meet these challenges as a gathered body of believers. The Church has historically been conceived of as an assembly. The Church is not the building, it's the congregation, and congregations congregate. We gather together--to sing, to pray, to listen, to receive communion, to offer our joys and concerns in person, to see each other face-to-face. I believe that this is God’s will, God’s plan for His people.

Many churches will close, permanently, as a result of the policies in some states. Some have members dealing with chemotherapy, with compromised immune systems, with difficult health challenges. But each Christian should ask himself, ask herself: Does it matter to me if the Church exists, and if so, how does it matter? Is the physical worshiping of God around the table of Jesus Christ and the physical receiving of His body and blood in prayer and song and communal meditation literally of no consequence? Are we not heirs of and in communion with the saints from hundreds and thousands of years ago, who risked their lives to care for neighbors with plague and poxes and disasters of all kinds?  Have we given sufficient thought as to how we can explain our abandonment of worship during this challenging time?

If you’re an erstwhile churchgoer, prayerfully consider these questions, which are of extreme relevance to all congregations, and especially to smaller congregations. The Church is being profoundly impacted by Covid concerns and behaviors. What active role can you play in creating a positive, rather than a lastingly negative, impact?

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..."  Hebrews 10:24-25

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro on E. Main Street and takes a lot of vitamin C and D every day.

October Caller Article

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing . . .”

As we sang that traditional hymn in worship on Sunday the 27th, I think I was not the only one who noticed and was saddened by how few of us had gathered.

These have been confusing times, and we have each adjusted our activities and habits, including our church-going habits, in an effort to be conscientious citizens and careful of the health of others. Every household in the Central Christian Church family has different circumstances to consider and different health conditions to protect. But at this point, I want to consider with you where we’ve been these past six months as a congregation, and I want to ask each of you to prayerfully consider your return to church.

On May 31, after an unprecedented 10-week closure which included Easter Sunday, we returned to in-person worship. Throughout the summer, we have changed some of our procedures to lessen the likelihood that any of us might unwittingly transmit the Covid virus. We have modified our Exchange of the Peace, we have given up hugs for now, we have socially-distanced ourselves from others in the pews, and we have changed procedures regarding the passing of the offering plate and Communion. For the immediate future, we will continue to take these practical and common-sense measures.

Since the first Covid case was reported in Rutherford County on March 15, we have had no reported Covid cases connected to Central Christian Church. Though some may disagree, it appears that what we’re learning over time is that as the virus passes through “the herd,” the risk to life and health becomes not as extreme as previously believed; it exists, but it is on a par with other risks that we willingly accept every day, and it can be mitigated further with simple precautions. 

We need to recognize that no one is going to blow the “all-clear” and formally authorize a return to church attendance. There will never be a perfect vaccine. There will be a large portion of the population who refuse to get any Covid vaccine. An initial vaccine may not be as effective as many would wish. New viruses most likely will continue to arise to threaten our health in the future. Some will be no deadlier than the seasonal flu. Others will present scary unknowns, as Covid has.

The Church must meet these challenges as a gathered body of believers. The Church has historically been conceived of as an assembly. The Church is not the building, it's the congregation, and congregations congregate. We gather together--to sing, to pray, to listen, to receive communion, to offer our joys and concerns in person, to see each other face-to-face. I believe that this is God’s will, God’s plan for His people.

Right now, our attendance is less than half what it was before we went into lockdown, and our giving is down significantly, though not as far as the attendance. Many have mailed checks, donated online or dropped off offerings at the office. Some of you have strong reasons to be cautious. I know we have members who are dealing with chemotherapy, with compromised immune systems, with difficult health challenges. But I would like each member to ask himself, to ask herself: Does it matter to me if the Church exists, and if so, how does it matter? Is the physical worshiping of God around the table of Jesus Christ and the physical receiving of His body and blood in prayer and song and communal meditation literally of no consequence? Are we not heirs of and in communion with the saints from hundreds and thousands of years ago, who risked their lives to care for neighbors with plague and poxes and disasters of all kinds?  Have we given sufficient thought as to how we can explain our abandonment of worship during this challenging time?

I would ask each of you to prayerfully consider these questions, which are of such extreme relevance not only to our own church, but to all Christian congregations in this and other countries, and especially to smaller congregations like ours. The Church is being profoundly impacted by Covid concerns and behaviors. What active role can you play in creating a positive, rather than a lastingly negative, impact?

" And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."  Hebrews 10:24-25

DNJ Column 9/27/20

I feel confident it will never happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he? Picture a black-bloc clad Ivy League educated trust funder Antifa type sitting in a Multnomah County (Portland) jail and smacking himself in the forehead and saying, “I coulda tutored a disadvantage fatherless child!”

         

Perhaps you’ve done that after eating a doughnut (or ten) and remembered you had a can of V-8 in the fridge. Because we so often do things that don’t turn out well and/or disappoint ourselves, the V-8 catchphrase became wildly popular way back in the seventies, and kids who don’t know what a V-8 even is (some kind of engine?) have heard the phrase.

         

All that firebombing, looting, arson and mayhem for nothing. For less than nothing, actually. Who suffers when local businesses get burned to the ground? Who gets laid off when black owned businesses and stores etc., don’t re-open because there’s no more money? Not everyone has Target’s resources, which plans to reopen the Minneapolis store in November.

Who lied to these people running around the streets of cities playing real-life videogames? Who told them that causing mayhem across the country advances any kind of cause? You’d almost think it was some sort of “false-flag” operation by really twisted Republicans, except that it seemed to be allowed to rage out of control mostly in Democrat controlled states and cities. Twitter shows us pictures of young adults and teenagers with a variety of injuries because they were hit with rubber bullets. Gruesome portraits, but you want to say to them, “What did you think would happen?” Where did they get the idea that the best way to protest violence is more violence?

At first it was all about George Floyd, it seemed. But the sad part of the story is that Mr. Floyd, who had a troubled past and an unflattering criminal record, had been attempting to turn his life around, evidenced by his involvement with church groups and bible studies. But someone sold him Fentanyl. I wonder there’s been an investigation into that? Drugs get their hook in you when you don’t have hope for the future. Prosecutors pick and choose who they prosecute. The case loads always demand this. But when Police are called, they have to respond, and they can’t just back off a criminal incident because of the race of the offender.

We’re now seeing the City Council of Minneapolis complaining about the skyrocketing violence in their city because, they say, the police aren’t doing their job. This after a unanimous vote earlier this summer to dismantle their police department, a substantive cut in their budget, and the resignation of many officers. Newsweek said in August, “Homicide rates in several of America's largest cities have risen by double-digit percentages within the last few months, amid police officers' decisions across the country to resign or retire early.”

Police probably need better pay and more money spent on training then budget cuts. It is the most vulnerable to crime who suffer when the police do not or cannot respond well.

Back to V-8 and what could be done instead. How about if all those hours protesting and chanting and rioting and looting were spent volunteering with (here in Murfreesboro) Black Minority Outreach, which provides “opportunities, resources and other means to enable individuals to become economically and socially self-sufficient and productive in their lives and communities, providing pre-release and reentry services to ex-offenders and their families?” Think of all the agencies that need energetic, driven, educated volunteers with a desire to make the world a better place. Read to Succeed. Feed America First. Barnabas Vision. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). They’re all, and dozens of others in Rutherford County and every city around the country, just a couple of clicks away. United Way is organized to let you tell them how you’d like to volunteer and they match you up.

Don’t burn it down, build it up!

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church and does not like V-8 or receive any remuneration from the Campbell Soup Company.

September Caller Article

In 1987, at the tender age of 31, Peter Grandich, a high school drop-out, was dubbed “The Wall Street Whiz Kid” by Good Morning America after accurately predicting the Black Monday stock market crash. He continued his career in finance, and in 2012, in an interview with Forbes, asserted, “I get my financial guidance from the Bible. Money and possessions are the second most referenced topic in the Bible – money is mentioned more than 800 times – and the message is clear: Nowhere in Scripture is debt viewed in a positive way.”

Pressed for further details, Grandich clarified that there are no hot stock tips in the Bible, but there are a variety of perspectives that are true no matter the state of the economy. He said that his years as a highly successful Wall Street stockbroker left him spiritually depleted and clinically depressed, and that the Bible is an excellent financial adviser, whether or not you’re religious. The picture this gives me of finance guys paging through the scriptures to find out what it says about money reminds me of myself as a teenager poring over the Bible to see what it said about sex, for that was certainly more of interest to me as a 15-year-old. But reading the Bible, even in a self-interested way, changed me, and planted seeds in my heart through God’s Word.

Grandich says his most important rule to remember when dealing with money is: “God owns everything. You may have bought that house, but He gave you the money to buy it, so it’s His.” How many times did I hear our preacher, when I was a kid, say “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills!” This may have meant more to Texas cattle ranchers than a nerdy teenager in Florida, but it made an impression. The things we hear repeated by people important to us tend to stick. Like my grandmother’s reminder, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Of course, I had two grandmothers, and the other one also left a seed planted. We were in her car, driving through strip shopping center parking lot, waiting for my older brother to come out of the drugstore where he’d gone to buy a comic book. Isn’t it weird how some things stick in your memory? Grandmom said, “Steve, it’s not enough just to go to church. Every person has to make a personal decision to follow Jesus.” I’m sure I’ve misquoted her, but that’s the gist. At the time, it felt like another old person nagging me. But that seed landed. And germinated.

I like the way Grandich is not afraid, in a culture that’s not overly friendly to people who quote the Bible, especially when talking about money, to nonetheless assert that “God owns everything.”

There’s more of course: Asserting that money is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible (I haven’t confirmed that!), Grandich, in Sheryl Nance-Nash’s article, mentions four more things:

“Do put money aside for investing. Debt’s not prohibited, but it should be avoided. The more you make, the more you should give. Don’t focus on acquiring possessions.”  Ms. Nance-Nash concludes her article by saying, “Maybe it's time to go back to Sunday school.” I like that, and would even leave out the maybe!

In a time of financial uncertainty, we grip our nickels more tightly, don’t we? Here at CCC, we’re “investing for the future” by fixing things that need fixing, and upgrading, inventing really, our online worship presence, buying the video equipment needed to reach out to those not yet able to worship “in person.”

But we’re also being careful, which is why the Board this summer decided to offer no raises in salaries for 2021, at my suggestion. We hope to keep the budget where it is, and adjust to increased expenses in utilities, insurance, and other things we can’t avoid by being careful with other expenses.

You can help by continuing to give and increasing your giving to CCC. The church website has a link for online donations, and if you would like stamped self-addressed envelopes to use to mail in your checks, we will provide those as well. Let me know. Thank you to all the faithful supporters of Central Christian Church, a beacon of hope in an uncertain world.

DNJ Column 8/9/20

Sometimes there’s just so much to write about it’s almost paralyzing! Where to begin?

          

Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, Unemployment, riots, an election year.

 

And, back before the virus, there were Australia Wildfires, locust swarms in Africa, and two that we seem to have dodged for now, Murder Hornets and the 2.5-mile-wide Asteroid headed our way.

          

Do you feel like you’re in a bad disaster movie, whose writers couldn’t settle on a plot? I remember years ago watching MST3K (for those of you not in the know, that stands for Mystery Science Theatre 3000), which screened really, really bad sci-fi movies (and bad sci-fi is the baddest). One of the robot characters whose silhouette we watch while he watches the really bad movie said during an extremely confusing plot move, “meanwhile, in yet another bad movie.”

         

Since things have been so weird, I’m gonna bring up Hulk Hogan. Yeah, I know, what? Yes, one of the most popular men in America. You may laugh, but how many WWE championships have you won? OK then.

          

I was a wrestler myself, in early life. When I say early, I mean like seven and eight years old. And when I say wrestler, I mean the form of wrestling known as “what to do when you can’t outrun your older brother.” The Ancient Arts of Self-Defense. Oddly enough, it was my grandmother who taught me my winning move. If you really need to know, write me. I can’t share it with just everybody, you know. I call it the “Ida Mae Move.”

          

Big brother, naturally, after all his early victories (we’re less than 2 years apart) became a wrestling fan, WWE, WWF, WrestleMania, etc. All the top-quality stuff. So if you don’t know who Hulk Hogan is, you should really stop living in that cave. Hulk popped up on the radar recently with an Instagram post he sent out to his bajillion followers during the worst of the lockdown (Before the Riots. There’s now BR and AR. We’re currently almost in AR time. I hope).

          

Luke Coppen, whose article in the Spectator alerted me to Rev. Hulk, said this re: religion in a time of pandemic generally. “Christian thinkers are split into two broad camps: those who believe the crisis will lead to a religious revival and those who think it will hasten the demise of organized religion. Resurgence or ruination, which one will it be?”

          

Not having thought of the Hulkman as a theologian before, or even as very religious, I was interested to see him quoted re: the upcoming end of the world. Hulk (real name: Terry Eugene Bollea) said this. And he may be right, he may be wrong, but it is in the realm of theological possibility: “In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. “God said, ‘you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church. If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14) “Maybe we don’t need a vaccine,” Hogan wrote. “Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.” That’s hard to argue with!

          

Steve Odom (real name: Steve Odom), pastor of Central Christian Church, will share his wrestling secrets with all who send in multiple Bitcoins to his Bahamian Bank Acct.

DNJ Column 8/2/20

After the fall of the USSR in 1991, Francis Fukuyama came out with a book “The End of History and the Last Man.” His thesis was that the free market policies of the West along with liberal democracy were spreading around the world. In some ways he was prescient, but in others too optimistic. This was the general tenor of the thinking in the nineties and after the turn of the century among neo-conservative and neo-liberals.

In general, this type of outlook wants to focus on small ball. Enough to eat, a place to live, safe neighborhoods. Leave behind the grand visions of transformation. Eschew the exciting revolutionary theories that plowed perhaps 200 million human lives into the topsoil of the earth in the 20th century.

And who could disagree with that? Apparently, plenty of people. I’m no big fan of the neo’s, I think they leave the role of religion and the place of personal virtue too much out of their game plans, but I’d settle for some of that small ball and less revolutionary foofarah these days, fewer

simultaneously poorly and overly  educated 25 year olds playing silly buggers in the streets, trying to take us back to the bad old days of ideological extremism. We throw the term Nazi around lightly these days, but real fascists are those guys that feed Jewish bodies into the ovens. Real Nazis calculated the cost of so many bullets per so many dead enemies (the famous “9 grams of lead” trope) and decided to build gas chambers. Efficiency and economy.

Real Marxist/Leninists realize it takes forever to take out kulaks one at a time, so they simply collect all the grain and produce in a given area, control the movement of people in and out of the region and starve 4 million people in about three years.

Those who know something about how the small, undermanned group of Bolsheviks managed to capture the government of the largest country in the world in a matter of months, will remember the fomenting of strikes, the undermining of all compromise solutions, the ruthless assassination of political enemies, and the destruction, intentionally, of any trust the population had previously placed in all levels of government.

Anyone who quotes Marx favorably in politics (“We’re Trained Marxists.” Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matter co-founder, proudly stated) should automatically be disregarded by anyone who cares about the poor, and humanity in general. The germ of destruction that Vladimir Lenin weaponized around the globe was brought forth by Karl Marx. Marx rejected the notion of work, and was a peripatetic “activist” (that bane of the modern world). He lived off his daddy’s money until that dried up and then sponged off his co-author, Frederick Engels, who owned large cotton mills in England.

Marx pretended to agitate for the underpaid workers, but the only working-class person he had much contact with was his family’s maid, Helen Demuth, whom he sexually assaulted (and who bore his unacknowledged son, Teddy). Demuth was paid nothing except disrespect and her room and food. You’re a Marxist? There’s Marxism for you. As we learned from George Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

So, yes, there’s a great deal of injustice in this country, some of it because of race, economic status, etc. But when someone says they want to tear it all down and start over, then I know what I’m dealing with. And it’s not good.  About Nicola Maduro’s Venezuelan regime, another co-founder, Opal Tometi said, “In these last 17 years, we have witnessed the Bolivarian Revolution champion participatory democracy and construct a fair, transparent election system recognized as among the best in the world.”

We’ve been nodding and chuckling at this kind of nonsense in our country for 50 years. It’s time to wake up.

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St.

August 2020, Caller Article

Under the category of questions asked by your parents when you’re young that you should never answer: “What do you take me for? Who do you think I am? Do you think I’m an idiot?” And, the one we all heard over and over again: “Well, if Johnny and his friends jump off a cliff are you going to follow him?” I know you remember that one.

It’s remarkable how much money is spent to set up social science experiments just to demonstrate stuff our grandparents knew in their bones.

        

One of the interesting things I’ve learned is the parallel nature of behavior and disease. George Herbert said, “Your virtue, and your vice, are contagious.”

        

We live in a time of heightened awareness of contagion, of infection. Clearly the coronavirus that seems to have originated in China can sicken and kill the older and weaker among us. Men seem to be more vulnerable than women by a slight margin. Our fear of it has been stoked by the media, which seems to be what the media often does; if it bleeds it leads, as they say.

        

So we’re hyper-aware of contagion. We look at each other differently, calculating whether someone is a vector of disease. We treat one another differently now, avoiding normal social behavior that we thought nothing of only 4 months ago.

        

Those who haven’t read, or have forgotten the novel 1984, or Fahrenheit 41, or Brave New World, sometimes don’t have the same sense of looming disaster that haunts others when the authorities tell us to stay home, stay indoors, don’t go to school, or work, or church! Wear a mask. Don’t go to funerals. Unless, well…. We’ve struggled with restrictions that most of us have never faced, not being alive in 1918 for the Spanish Flu.

        

In the context of all this controversy, we are reminded of the contagion of example, whether good or bad. And not just for children.

        

Kay Hymowitz wrote about this in City Journal. A study from 2013 using data from the Framingham Heart Study which followed 5,000 people for 32 years found that divorce is “contagious,” independently of the normal factors that lead to divorce.

        

What they discovered was that if your close friends divorce, your odds of being divorced rise, and they rise drastically, about 75%. It’s contagious.

        

We all know that we often yawn when others yawn, and we’re more likely to smile and laugh when others do. It’s contagious. We catch it. We like to be around happiness. 

        

But divorce, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame from an infectious smile. The 2013 study reinforces the notion of the power of human networks.

        

We are social animals. We live in a herd. We’re linked in all kinds of ways: families, neighborhoods, schools, churches, workplace, friends, and all those networks connect to other subsidiary networks.

        

And the networks are not random. We connect most strongly to others who are like us in some way, sex, religion, race, age, politics, could be geographic, a common hobby, or even a club, an antique car club maybe, or model railroading, rescuing French bulldogs. Networks.

        

The coronavirus spread through networks, but so do other things in addition to divorce. Political preferences of course, obesity has network causations, suicides develop in hot spots, teenage drug use, tobacco smoking, many things are driven by social connection in ways that are surprisingly strong and are too non-random not to be connected to the influence that we exercise over each other. Stronger even than our grandmothers’ proverbs would indicate.

        

Good things are contagious, as well. Adolescents are at an age where they’re easily influenced by their peers, and there are human network causations behind groups of kids who DON’T smoke, or do drugs, and kids who get higher grades, and win at science fairs, and get admitted to exclusive colleges are also influenced by their networks in a good way.

        

People say they “want to change the world.” Remember. You change it every day.

DNJ Column 7/26/20

 

Under the category of questions asked by your parents when you’re young that you should never answer: “What do you take me for? Who do you think I am? Do you think I’m an idiot?” And, the one we all heard over and over again: “Well, if Johnny and his friends jump off a cliff are you going to follow him?” I know you remember that one.

It’s remarkable how much money is spent to set up social science experiments just to demonstrate stuff our grandparents knew in their bones.

         

One of the interesting things I’ve learned is the parallel nature of behavior and disease. George Herbert said, “Your virtue, and your vice, are contagious.”

         

We live in a time of heightened awareness of contagion, of infection. Clearly the coronavirus that seems to have originated in China can sicken and kill the older and weaker among us. Men seem to be more vulnerable than women by a slight margin. Our fear of it has been stoked by the media, which seems to be what the media often does; if it bleeds it leads, as they say.

         

So we’re hyper-aware of contagion. We look at each other differently, calculating whether someone is a vector of disease. We treat one another differently now, avoiding normal social behavior that we thought nothing of only 4 months ago.

         

Those who haven’t read, or have forgotten the novel 1984, or Fahrenheit 41, or Brave New World, sometimes don’t have the same sense of looming disaster that haunts others when the authorities tell us to stay home, stay indoors, don’t go to school, or work, or church! Wear a mask. Don’t go to funerals. Unless, well…. We’ve struggled with restrictions that most of us have never faced, not being alive in 1918 for the Spanish Flu.

         

In the context of all this controversy, we are reminded of the contagion of example, whether good or bad. And not just for children.

         

Kay Hymowitz wrote about this in City Journal. A study from 2013 using data from the Framingham Heart Study which followed 5,000 people for 32 years found that divorce is “contagious,” independently of the normal factors that lead to divorce.

         

What they discovered was that if your close friends divorce, your odds of being divorced rise, and they rise drastically, about 75%. It’s contagious.

         

We all know that we often yawn when others yawn, and we’re more likely to smile and laugh when others do. It’s contagious. We catch it. We like to be around happiness. 

         

But divorce, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame from an infectious smile. The 2013 study reinforces the notion of the power of human networks.

         

We are social animals. We live in a herd. We’re linked in all kinds of ways: families, neighborhoods, schools, churches, workplace, friends, and all those networks connect to other subsidiary networks.

         

And the networks are not random. We connect most strongly to others who are like us in some way, sex, religion, race, age, politics, could be geographic, a common hobby, or even a club, an antique car club maybe, or model railroading, rescuing French bulldogs. Networks.

         

The coronavirus spread through networks, but so do other things in addition to divorce. Political preferences of course, obesity has network causations, suicides develop in hot spots, teenage drug use, tobacco smoking, many things are driven by social connection in ways that are surprisingly strong and are too non-random not to be connected to the influence that we exercise over each other. Stronger even than our grandmothers’ proverbs would indicate.

         

Good things are contagious, as well. Adolescents are at an age where they’re easily influenced by their peers, and there are human network causations behind groups of kids who DON’T smoke, or do drugs, and kids who get higher grades, and win at science fairs, and get admitted to exclusive colleges are also influenced by their networks in a good way.

         

People say they “want to change the world.” Remember. You change it every day.

 

Steve Odom tries to be contagious at Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN.

DNJ Column 7/5/20

It’s a challenge for all readers of the Bible to come to terms with the fact that the Bible is both the least political and most political book in history. For example, Psalm 97 kicks off the argument with such language as “The Lord is King! Let the earth rejoice.”

         

We normally like to let this kind of language, The Lord is King, roll off of our backs. It’s uncomfortable in our anti-monarchical democracy. We used to say we don’t kneel to anybody, we’re Americans, but that seems to have, at least temporarily for some, gone out the window. But king language is still a bit uncomfortable for American Christians in our religious non-establishment regime. Is it a bid for power, this assertion of the monarchy of God, some sort of theocratic establishment?

It’s uncomfortable partly because we’ve heard the phrase “separation of church and state” all our lives, even though that phrase is non-constitutional, originating from a letter from ex-President Thomas Jefferson, and, by the way, I hope the DC police have a guard around the Jefferson Memorial, the way things are going.

         

We’re also uncomfortable because too often the absolutist political claims of the Bible are turned into mousetrap cheese by Republicans and Democrats eager to score partisan points. From city councilmember race all the way up to a run for the presidency, many, often the most religious of candidates, cannot resist claiming the mantle of morality, the scriptures, the church. It’s understandable, a lot is at stake.

         

So, ironically, the political nature of the Bible overrules those who would make political hay of the scriptures. The Lord is King. The Word of God asserts total claim over the affairs of humanity. Whose picture is on this coin? Well give to Caesar what is Caesars. But give to God what is Gods.

 

Now this is deeply offensive to the Kings of this world, and I include all political office-holders in that phrase, for to say that the Lord is King is also to say that the King is NOT the Lord. That is to say, the king, with a small k, let’s call him, is not the source of all authority, the king, in a real sense is not the source, not the fount, not the origin of any authority, nor is the people, by the way, nor the constitution, the strongman, the priest, the bishop, or the congress.

         

In the confession of the synagogue and the church, the king, meaning any and all positions of earthly authority, must live with the idea and the reality that some at least of his earthly subjects have a higher allegiance, an other allegiance, than to the king, that they see and live by the truth of justice and righteousness as found in the nature and actions of the Lord.

         

This is why I have no problem pledging allegiance to the flag. The Pledge of Allegiance is limiting, and it’s limited. It’s limiting in a similar fashion to the oath that a member of the military takes. The primary part of the Oath of Enlistment states that “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...” It’s not a personal oath to a particular president or General. It embodies the secondary sense of authority found in the Constitution of this country, which constitutes the nation.

         

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is to the flag of this country, which it represents, not a party, or a president, or an ideology. But the Pledge of Allegiance is limited as well as limiting. It is limited in that, as amended in 1954, it now states allegiance “to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

         

You see, “pledging allegiance” are strong words. And I would not pledge that kind of service unless I could understand it to be a subservient allegiance to my primary allegiance to the Lord, for the Lord is King.

Steve Odom, with his dual loyalties, is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

July Newsletter Article

I have an old childhood friend whom I haven’t seen or spoken to since 1964. Back in those days your friends were the kids your age that lived nearby. We were up to no good much of the time. We set fields on fire, we terrorized the birds with our BB guns, we dug holes and set traps in the woods for neighboring kids who were not part of our tribe because they were a couple of blocks away. We also just had fun, riding bikes endlessly, picking blackberries, swinging from vines and pretending to be Tarzan, climbing pine trees, swimming in phosphate pits (strictly forbidden).

 

In sum, we were virtually unsupervised for hours at a time nearly every day of the year. Most, though not all, of the houses were cinder block duplexes, though not all. Mom and Dad were poor in those days, though my brother and I and our bike buddies were happy as kings.

 

I got to thinking about my old friend because I sometimes nowadays interact with him on Facebook. He’s a talented guy. He designed and built his own retirement home a couple of years ago, he created and ran more than one PR and Marketing firms over the years. If you were to poll the two of us, we’d probably have very similar opinions on all kinds of things. But one of the things I’ve learned from Social Media is how differently some people express themselves in what is already an expressly public forum. 

 

When it comes to politics, he is fiery, angry, always seemingly on the attack mode. I get angry as well, but I don’t like to display it. I like to read about politics, and the why of it, looking for answers about what’s properly pursued in a liberal democracy with religious foundations, and about the how of it; how can a community most effectively pursue its proper ends.

We don’t know each as well as we did over 50 years ago. A lot has changed, our experiences diverged, our learning went down separate paths. George Herbert, the English poet and priest of the 17th century, compiled a series of proverbs that he collected from his farming parishioners that he visited as their pastor. He called the booklet he published the Jaculum Prudentum, or Wise Sayings, and Bo put one on the church signboard for us last week; “The best mirror is an old friend.”

Meaning, I assume, that those around you a lot often know you as well or better than you know yourself. Me and my old childhood friend from 1964 have been apart for too long for that saying to apply, but lately he has led me to remember a few other proverbs. Think before you speak comes to mind. Also, a verse from the letter of James in 1:19-20 says, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

 

Also pertinent in these days of political controvery is James 3:13, 17-18, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom….  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

 

I read the most amazing “language” on Twitter these days. I put language in quotes, because if my brother and I got too salty (“daggum it” “what the heck?”

were pushing the limits) around my grandmother all she had to say was “language.”

 

I think about saying that to Twitter users I follow that state in their profiles they are Christian but use four letter words that, had I used them around my parents, would have left me unable to sit down for a week.

 

Now when my brother and I were around 10 or 11, we practiced that kind of language around each other and our buddies in the neighborhood. We had cussing contests, sitting up in the Live Oak trees trying to smoke the unfiltered Pall Malls we had stolen from my father. If I were to go back in the kitchen of that house that we moved out of in 1970, I could still point out the exact cabinet where my father kept his cartons. Top shelf, second from the left. (We thought he wouldn’t notice).

 

Now I don’t think I’ve heard my brother cuss in 50 years. Probably has, just not around me. Boys grow up. At least we used to. But, as always, we tend to imitate what’s around us. If that kind of language is used on TV, at the theatre, the movies, it will show up elsewhere. Think of the language you may have heard lately, what protesters are shouting in the faces of black and white, male and female, police officers. It causes damage, not only in our relations with friends and enemies, but in our souls.

 

My mother grew up on a farm, and I heard her say more than once, “Ooh, what you had in your mouth I wouldn’t want in my hand.” Farm wisdom. You can laugh at my prudery, but listen to your language, your speech, and ask yourself if you would speak to Jesus Christ that way, and then remember, you already are.

 

Let your speech be what is good and edifying that it may impart grace to all who hear.

DNJ Column 6/21/20

When the shutdown started, a church member suggested I email out a daily devotion.  I get them from all over the place, some on the internet, googling around, some from books I’ve owned for years. The need for more than sixty daily devotions (so far) to send out has driven me to find more and more sources.

          

Some of these discoveries have been rewarding. When I graduated from FSU, we didn’t walk across a stage like in high school, but we all (in the College of Arts and Sciences, or Engineering, or Education, etc.) stood up en masse, had our degrees conferred upon us and sat down again. We later got our diplomas in the mail. Except me. I got a letter from the library, “Dear Mr. Odom, Steven M. You have a $20 replacement fine for a book you checked out that is hereby designated lost, and your diploma will be held until you pay for the lost book.”

          

I had no idea where the book was, but clearly the Robert Manning Strozier library held the stronger hand, so I anted up, with my $20. In due course I got my diploma in the mail.

          

I don’t know how many years later, I found the book that I had bought! I thought about taking it by and asking for a refund, but by that time I was old enough to know better. But now, I had a wonderful book, simply titled, “George Macdonald: An Anthology.” It was edited, with a very readable Preface, by C.S. Lewis. You can find almost all of Lewis and Macdonald’s work nowadays, but the Lewis publishing phenomenon hadn’t hit its peak back then.

          

So that has been a good source, for it has many snippets that caught Lewis’ attention back in the 1940s, and now, I can read one of the 365 quotes from this book, and then look up the larger passage at http://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/. Astoundingly, this website seems to have everything that Macdonald wrote, available for free. There are many other sites for different writers, some specific to one person, others with anthologized portions from many great writers. Gutenberg.org has just all kinds of things, some of the greatest books in history.

          

There’s one particular writer I want to call your attention to however, and though his books are widely available for purchase online, it’s not as easy to find a free version that way, perhaps partly because he’s still in copyright. John Baillie (1886-1960) was a minister in the Church of Scotland, and professor of theology at universities in the UK, US and Canada. He wrote more than nine books, but the one for which he’s remembered by most is a little pocket size book with 31 days of Morning and Evening prayers, each less than a full page long. It’s called “A Diary of Private Prayer.”

          

There are those who have prayed “with” Prof. Baillie every day and night for decades. For all the books that he wrote, I doubt if put together they changed as many lives for the better as his one little book of prayer. Published 1936 (and in print and available on Kindle), Baillie writes in the somewhat formal language for prayer that was second nature at the time. It’s good that people today can speak to God without artificiality, but I get the sense that there was nothing artificial whatsoever about John Baillie. I recommend him, and his companion volume, “A Diary of Readings” (365 readings from inspirational writers through the centuries) to you enthusiastically.

          

Let me end with an excerpt from the morning of the third day: “This day, O Lord—give me courtesy; give me meekness of bearing, with decision of character; give me longsuffering; give me charity; give me chastity: give me sincerity of speech; give me diligence in my allotted task….Amen.”

 

Send an email to steven.odom@gmail.com, pastor of Central Christian Church, if you’d like to receive the Daily Devotion.

Daily News Journal Column 6/14/20

Some churches around Tennessee are gradually re-opening. It’s unfortunate that this has become a political or partisan issue, because once that happens, people in general no longer listen.

The issue of church and state was foremost in the minds of our country’s founders and the First Amendment to the constitution stated in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

It's pertinent that the very first clause of the very first amendment addresses freedom of religion. Congress is restricted in this clause from doing certain things, first and foremost from establishing religion. In context, the aim was to prevent Congress from establishing a state church, and preventing them from restricting religious practice (prohibiting the free exercise).

Seems obvious to us today, but it wasn’t at the time. Baptists struggled in the 1700s against Congregationalist favoritism in New England, and with Anglican favoritism in Virginia. Quakers struggled to not be entirely prohibited in several states, and Catholics, mainly in Maryland, struggled with Protestants to be considered licit at all.

It took years for this federal restriction to become effective in several of the original states of the Union. But today, the state of religious freedom is not as parlous as many have lately argued. There are some state governments that don’t seem to understand this, however.

Many states did overreach, and overstep their bounds in the shutdown/lockdown. In general, governments must take great care to ensure that emergency declarations do not impose undue burdens that are substantially greater than those imposed on non-religious organizations, such as businesses.

For example, if a governor says a church may not hold any indoor worship, and then arrests people for gathering in a church parking lot in their cars to listen to worship on their radios, this is an undue burden. Are there no cars in the grocery parking lot? All during the shutdown/lockdown/ regime, you and I went to Kroger and Walmart (or others went for us) or Home Depot and Lowes, and employees continued to work at all kinds of warehouses like Amazon, etc.

It was stated that these were essential services, whereas nail salons, restaurants, et al, were not, and churches were included in some lists of non-essential services. There’s your problem. Nail salons are not in the first amendment; religious establishments are.

If a governor said only ten people can be in a church at a time, or none at all, as in some states, but hundreds of people wandered through Walmart because they were essential (and I’m not arguing with that), you have a restriction of religion in a discriminatory manner.

And then there were those who said that the government cannot restrict churches from worshiping under any circumstances. First Amendment! However, all constitutional provisions are subject to interpretation, and Amendments are not Commandments and do not establish absolutes. It is good to have pushback from churches when government treads too close to the line. But as long as churches, etc., are not discriminated against relative to other institutions, freedom of religion is not at issue.

For to say, churches need not follow any laws or emergency regulations is to come perilously close to violating the first half of that first clause, respecting establishment of religion.

In Tennessee and elsewhere, it seems that governors bent over backward to not interfere with religion. Others, like Mississippi, Illinois, California, and others have not been as successful at treading this narrow path.

There were those who scorned churches for any pushback. “You’re killing people!” But to them I would say that the freedom of religion is the first bulwark against an even more intrusive governmental regime that, whether they know it or not, would not be welcomed for long even by those who might wish for it.

There is a real wisdom in treating certain things as sacrosanct, for the world changes faster than we can understand it. The First Amendment is certainly first and foremost on that list.

 

Steve Odom is pastor Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, which was closed for ten Sundays.

 

DNJ Column 6/7/20

When you “posit” something, you stake out a position. It’s related to the use of “position” in terms of where you’re located, you can see that. So, let’s posit a few things. A policeman using excessive force when subduing a suspect is wrong. That’s why they call it “excessive.” Was it excessive? The fact that Mr. Floyd died would seem to indicate that. We all saw at least part of the filmed encounter on social media. But was the officer’s use of that technique unusual? Was it standard procedure when dealing with a strong, though unarmed, and handcuffed subject? The store owners who called the police indicated they thought he was intoxicated in some way. Both subsequent autopsies indicate recent methamphetamine use and present fentanyl intoxication. Is that relevant? You can bet it will come up in Chauvin’s trial, and if there’s a hung jury, or worse, he’s acquitted, it’s gonna be this week all over again.

         

 The fentanyl may have contributed to his death, but bad judgment in abusing drugs is no reason to be killed by another, police or otherwise. There are so many ways this could have been avoided. Don’t use drugs, don’t pass counterfeit bills, don’t allow police with 18 complaints in their file anywhere near the public, don’t underfund police departments to the degree they have to hire less than professional officers.

          

So here’s another position: Police departments not removing dangerous officers for violations is wrong. These are good positions. Who could disagree?  And, during the week since Mr. Floyd died, many black and white Americans have united over some more positions (though strangely, the major media outlets seem not to have).

          

Looting is wrong. That’s not complicated, and there are no good excuses for it. Looting is simply theft that you think you can get away with in a time of crisis. Natural disasters attract looters, large urban fires, and, as we know, civil unrest.

         

Deliberately beating and kicking people is wrong. Going after shopkeepers, innocent bystanders, truck drivers (heroes only two weeks ago!), media personnel, law enforcement officers. Wrong. Arson. Wrong. Treating people differently solely on account of the color of their skin. Wrong.

          

All of this should be obvious. But then why is it all happening, seemingly with impunity? Gosh, 650 words are not enough space to answer that question. But let’s not forget the book of Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Clearly, plenty of folk are doing what is right in their own eyes. The other Bible passage that comes to mind is often misunderstood. In Exodus 21 we read that “When men strive together… if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

This verse has been criticized by many for being excessively legalistic and unforgiving, but in that world 3,500 years ago, the real problem was the escalation of retaliation, thus the lex talionis (law of retaliation) was intended to regulate revenge and de-escalate these kinds of ongoing retributive feuds. ONLY an eye for an eye. Not more.

The lawyer for Mr. Floyd’s family gave remarkably good counsel to those angry at the callous disregard for life shown by the Minneapolis police involved, when he said, “the family understands the "righteous anger" of protesters and (Crump) said they support the people who want to work towards change, but he called the violence "unacceptable." He encouraged the community to "take a breath for justice, take a breath for peace, take a breath for our country, but more importantly, take a breath for George, since he didn't get the opportunity to take a breath."  

         

 Clearly, for many perpetrating the violence seen on the news, it’s no longer about George Floyd. Pray for your country.

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN. Explain to him how he’s wrong at steven.odom@gmail.com

June Caller Article

It was indeed wonderful to see many of you in worship again this past Sunday, May 31. Ten weeks of churches around the country only worshiping via TV, laptop, and cell phones, and the verdict is in: it is definitely not the same. It’s unfortunate that this has become a political or partisan issue, because once that happens, people in general no longer listen.

But because the issue of church and state was foremost in the minds of our country’s founders when the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the constitution) were ratified in 1791, the first amendment (though third in Madison’s list of twelve, the first two were not ratified then) stated this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It's germane and pertinent that the very first clause of the very first amendment, addresses the freedom of religion. Congress (later adjudicated to include state legislators) is restricted in this clause from doing certain things, first and foremost from establishing religion. In the context of the day, they were aiming to prevent the Congress from establishing a state church, a particular denomination, and, as the second clause implies, preventing Congress from restricting religious practice unnecessarily (prohibiting the free exercise).

All this today seems obvious wisdom to American Christians, but it was not at the time. Baptists struggled in the 1700s against Congregationalist favoritism in New England, and with Anglican favoritism in Virginia. Quakers struggled to not be entirely prohibited in several states, and Catholics, mainly in Maryland, struggled with Protestants of every stripe to be considered licit at all.

It took upwards of thirty and forty years in some states for this federal restriction to become effective in several of the original states of the Union. There have since then been a variety of Church/State issues that have risen all the way to the Supreme Court, and while they have been fractiously argued and received, the state of religious freedom is not as parlous as many religious people have lately argued. There are some states where the state government does not seem to understand this, however.

This First Amendment church/state clause has come to the fore recently because some have charged that it is unconstitutional for the government (“Congress” in the amendment) to, in the Emergency Declarations of the coronavirus pandemic, require churches to close. As with so many things, it’s complicated.

Many states did overreach, and overstep their bounds. In general, governments, federal, state and local, must take great care to ensure that emergency declarations as well as standard legislation, do not impose undue burdens that are substantially greater than those imposed on non-religious organizations, such as businesses.

So that, e.g., if a governor or mayor says a church may not hold any indoor worship, to then arrest people for gathering in a church parking lot while staying inside their cars to listen to a service over their car radios is an undue burden. Are there no cars in the grocery parking lot? It is violating the second part of the clause (prohibiting the free exercise thereof) because all during the shutdown/lockdown/shelterinplace regime, you and I went to Kroger and Walmart (or others went for us) or Home Depot and Lowes, and employees continued to work at all kinds of warehouses like Amazon, etc.

It was stated that these were essential services, whereas nail salons, barbershops, restaurants, et al, were not, and churches were included in some lists of non-essential services. There is the sticking point. Nail salons are not in the first clause of the first amendment, religious establishments are.

If a governor said only ten people can be in a church (synagogue, mosque) at a time, or none at all, as in some states, but hundreds of people wandered through Walmart because they were essential (and I’m not arguing with that), you have a government restricting a religious establishment in a way that effects an “undue burden” in a discriminatory manner.

On the other hand, there were those who said that the government can not restrict churches from worshiping under any circumstances. First Amendment! First Amendment! However, all constitutional provisions are subject to interpretation, and Amendments are not Commandments and do not establish absolutes. It is good to have pushback from churches when government treads too close to the line. But as long as churches, etc., are not discriminated against relative to other institutions, then governments can on the face of it, be considered to be pursuing the best interest of the people as a whole.

For to say, churches need not follow any laws or emergency regulations that are intended to be temporary, is to fall out of bed on the other side, and come perilously close to violating the first half of that first clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In Tennessee and many other states, it seems that governors, who have state authority to make emergency decrees on a temporary basis, bent over backward to not interfere with religion. Other states, like Mississippi, Illinois, California, and perhaps others have not been as successful at treading this narrow path.

There were those who were scornful of churches for any pushback at all. “It’s an emergency! You’re killing people!” But to them I would say that the freedom of religion is the first bulwark against an even more intrusive governmental regime that whether they know it or not, would not be welcomed for long even by those who might wish for it.

There is a real wisdom in treating certain things as sacrosanct, for the world changes faster than we can understand it. The old-fashioned, clunky, slow moving Constitution has a lot of human wisdom that has served well for a long time. The very first clause of the very first Amendment, which made the whole constitution more palatable to those who were already resisting what seemed like too much power for the state, is certainly first and foremost on that list. 

DNJ Column 5/31/2020

How adept are you at keeping the Bible at a distance? No, I don’t mean keeping it out of your house and heart entirely. I’m thinking of believers who value, treasure and prize the scriptures, and identify with them to such a degree that the alien nature of the Bible is not on your horizon.

         

 In the psychological understanding of relationships, to be overly “enmeshed” is a problem for a number of reasons. If you’re overly enmeshed, you can’t really “hear” what the other person is saying, in conflicted conversations. In an enmeshed relationship, criticism comes across only as attack; unreasonable, unloving, catastrophic attack. Differentiation is a precondition for a healthy relationship.

          

So, the “distance” of the Bible should be welcomed and expected. But for some of us, our defense of the Bible against the assaults of an unbelieving world blurs our vision and understanding of God’s word. My mother defended me like a grizzly bear when my 3rd grad teacher criticized my (cursive) handwriting. My mother’s children had (have?) no faults, at least none that anyone else would be allowed to point out.

          

And, you know, if anyone in this old world should love you unreasonably, I guess it should be your mama. But love is not cancelled or even necessarily harmed by criticism. My teacher was right, after all. My handwriting was bad in 1962, and it’s worse now. I can hardly read it myself, especially if I come back to something more than a day or so after I’ve written it.

          

To keep the Bible at a distance is not to attack it, but to see it for what it is. To recognize it. To see, first of all, that it is not me. It is other. If you “like” the Bible, that could mean anything. You like the Bible, and ice cream, and JK Rowling, and puppies and Stephen King. What have we established? Not much.

          

To see the “distance” of the Bible is to be well reminded that I should take care how I understand and interpret it. It means I not only must think twice before I tell someone else what it “means,” I must give my self that same care of thought when I read the scriptures. The Bible was written by men who did not know me. I know of them only what I read in this text (and elsewhere, perhaps).

          

But even beyond that, the Bible as Word of God is foreign to most of what I know and believe as a modern person. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Who says anything like that in this age? The Bible has an unusual mien, manner and style. This is part of the blessing it conveys, for this reminds me of just how big the ocean is and how small my boat.

          

Sometimes, the Bible speaks with the softness of a mother’s lullaby, and sometimes it comes to us like a bolt of lightning. It burns, it illuminates, it shocks us, for in our God-less, comfortable lives, we’ve grown accustomed to a “use” of our life and all the world provides, instead of a love of love his handiwork.

          

Thou fool, it says in the parable, this night thy soul is required of thee. There’s a lightning bolt. And to the man or woman intensely aware of their own blameworthiness, disgusted with their inner and outer life, disgusted with how they’ve wasted everything given to them, there’s a word that says, Does no one condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more. Softer, more comforting even than a lullaby.

          

Scot-free? No. Mercy is always severe, for now we know. Knowledge, especially of oneself, comes with a cost. No more excuses. I didn’t know! That won’t work anymore. When we see that flash of light, or hear that gentle voice softly singing, then, finally, we begin to learn who we are. Who God is. He is that for which we’ve longed, even as we’ve feared to approach.

 

Steve Odom practices his handwriting and reads the Bible at Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN

DNJ Column 5/17/20      

 During college I lived at home. Better food than the cafeterias offered. That’s when I learned to “cook.” And by “cook,” I mean making toast, scrambling eggs, making grits, and “cooking” frozen chopped beef patties. They came in plastic bags, five to a bag. Little twist-tie. Not the best example of haut cuisine, I know, but I liked them. Especially with a pat of butter on top!  One of the early options for chopped beef patties was a company called Clark’s. I’m hoping they weren’t a subsidiary of Clark’s Shoes, so let’s not even look that up.

          

Clark’s sticks in my head for two reasons. They were simple and easy. Pop in the frying pan, little butter, and bon appetit!  The second reason was the commercials. They were on TV all the time. Perhaps that’s why mom started buying them. They had a memorable jingle, and the normal scenario was the harried housewife when her husband calls at 5:00 PM. “Honey, I’m bringing the boss home for dinner!” Big crazy letters on the screen with that boing sound, “The Unexpected!”

          

The unexpected is a core biblical component. There are themes and motifs that stretch through the Old and New Testaments alike. Similar to a current, deep beneath the surface of the ocean, or even like our own “Sinking Creek” here in Murfreesboro, that traverses the city from SE to NW, sinking and resurfacing several times.

          

The unexpected is a good way to describe God’s call of Abraham and Sarah to be parents of a great nation, for they were childless into their 80s. Jacob, the self-centered, scheming, grasping, mama’s boy, becomes the ultimate patriarch, the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Moses, the 80 year exiled “son” of Pharaoh, hiding out in Midian from murder charges, chosen to lead the Hebrew tribes out of Egypt. Jael, in the book of Judges, wife of a non-Israelite, Heber the Kenite, saves Israel by enticing Sisera (enemy general) into the tent to rest and while he’s napping puts a tent peg through his head. The Unexpected! David, “man after God’s own heart,” author of beloved Psalms, but also adulterer and murderer.

          

The unexpected is a motif that goes to the heart of the gospel story itself. For the essence of the gospel is the unexpected, the reversal of the normal. Heard so often in the gospels, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first…..he who loses his life shall keep it….blessed are you who mourn….love your enemies.” The enactment of this sort of reality is of course the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

          

How is it that the best of all men is hounded to his destruction in what was the most horribly painful way to die? And why is the day on which it happened described as “good” Friday? And why do Christians hold dear the symbol of this death and torture? Though to some it is the merest glimmer, the answer that shines out of the darkness is instanced for us in that same man being raised from the dead, never to die again. Having gone beyond death into a new kind of life.

          

Death’s power over the human is destroyed by a death. Death accepted and not resisted by this one perfect man somehow drains it of its power. Death, the ancient enemy, destroys itself by destroying the height of goodness, the perfection of beauty, the best example of truth to walk on the planet.

          

So many opposites, unexpecteds, reversals in this story. God creates by bringing something from nothing. Light speaking in darkness, “Let there be light! And there was light.” True life born from the death of truth. Infinite power born as a helpless infant. As that baby said, when grown to manhood, “when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church at 404 E. Main St. in Murfreesboro.

DNJ Column 5/10/20

I used to watch my grandfather make things. Before the Depression he was a metalworker and welder at the railyards in Jacksonville. I have a kitchen knife he made, the blade having a reverse curve from normal, though I don’t know why.

          

What can you make? I ask myself that question sometimes. I make sentences. Sermons. Columns. Class notes. I once made a set of bookcases. But could I fell a tree (the right tree) and cut and cure the necessary lumber? I’ve planted gardens, using seeds and plants I bought. Could I propagate plants without a nursery supplier?

         

No one of us could build an automobile alone. Assuming you had a horse, and a wagon, would you even know how to hitch them together? Could you shoe that horse? We are dependent on one another in so many ways. How long could you live if there was no electricity? If the grid went down and stayed down. Such is the stuff of dystopian sci/fi.

          

But it’s good to ponder such things. Our former president was roundly criticized once for emphasizing (overemphasizing?) the government and community role in business and factory development, when he said, perhaps unwisely, “You didn’t build that.” (which phrase astonishingly has its own Wikipedia entry). The president was echoing Elizabeth Warren’s defense of progressive taxation made in her Senatorial run at the time. Much of the pushback took his words out of context.

          

But in reality, the real problem was the straw man nature of the argument, for no one thought or pretended you could build or operate a factory, business, etc. without roads, rails, laws, police and fire services, etc. No one with the skill, wisdom, fortitude, and perseverance to build a company that actually makes things, looks back and says “I did it all by myself.” 

Though I disagree with the move toward what seems like an extreme taxation regime, I agree with the underlying sentiment or insight. Just as I might plant a garden “all by myself,” I couldn’t do it in isolation, without seed growers, and shippers, and truck drivers, and road builders, on and on the list goes.

We live on a planet that in many ways seems to want to kill us, and we have to rely on one another in our defense. Those of you who’ve faced a tornado or other weather “event” know that. Or if you survived a bout of the COVID-19, or cancer, or heart disease, or battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The world’s a dangerous place.

The winds of Sunday night this week blew half a tree down from my yard into the street and my neighbor’s yard. Had I been standing in the wrong place, I would not be writing this today. Monday morning I was out with my limb loppers nipping away at the part in the street, not sure how long it would take me to clear it out.

A man walked by with his dog, said, “my church has a Disaster Team, you want me to call them?” “Well yeah! That would be great!” He whips out his cell phone, says, “Hey Josh,” describes the situation, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that within 10 minutes three guys in pickup trucks arrived from First United Methodist Church and chainsaws were buzzing!

In less than an hour it was all cut and stacked, and before noon the city had hauled it away! This is the kind of world we live in. It’s partly a function of societal wealth, but it’s also about virtues, expectations, freedoms (I signed no liability releases) and ingrained beliefs because of cultural habits and practices. For the same man who said, Love your neighbor as yourself, also said, In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Hats off to FUMC and the City of Murfreesboro!

Steve Odom, pastor of Central Christian Church and hopes all your trees are still standing. steven.odom@gmail.com

DNJ Column May 3, 2020

 

As a child, two things stood out for me about Jacksonville, Florida, where my grandparents lived. One was the smell. As we got closer to the city, we were always pleased to be enveloped in the aroma of coffee beans roasting at the Maxwell House plant there.

          

I’ve read that the olfactory nerve is strongly connected to the place of memory in the brain, and you’ve probably experienced, as I have, an aroma or fragrance from your past taking you back to once-forgotten memories. Cooking bacon reminds me of camping with my father, and chopping wood (pine) of watching my grandfather saw boards in his garage workshop.

          

The theologian Ephraim Radner tells us a lot about the function of memory and its role in Biblical interpretation in his celebrated book “Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures.” I commend it, though it’s not what we might call “beach reading.”

          

Of course, the sense of smell is not all that can trigger certain memories. There’s sight, as well. The Rock of Gibraltar logo of Prudential Insurance does it for me. At an early age, I associated my father with a big tall building in downtown Jacksonville, the Prudential building. Dad, who had majored in statistics, worked as an underwriter there in the late 1950s. Anytime we drove past it, we kids worked hard to be the first to spot it from a distance, “there’s where Daddy works!”

          

When I moved my family to Washington, DC, in 1987, our kids were 3 and 2 years old. Driving in from the north on I-270, we drove past a church steeple and my daughter, the older of the two, sang out, “There’s our new church!” It wasn’t of course, but we were all excited. It was cute. But even cuter, was my 2 year old son, being a fan of Mike Mulligan, and feeling left out of the spotting things competition, sang out as we drove past a large construction site, “There’s our new steam shovel!”

          

Do you sometimes feel drawn to the past? I know I do. I would pay good money to walk through my grandparents’ house in Jacksonville again. I’ve looked for it on Google street view, but everything’s changed so much, and all the houses and yards seem to have shrunk! But if I could get inside, I would know it’s the right house by looking at the back of the hall door (if it’s still there) where my father and my uncle used to practice throwing their pocketknives, where they thought their parents wouldn’t notice. Is the hand-cranked ice crusher still attached to the back porch lintel? Is the built-in wall niche for the telephone still there? Are there any snapdragons that my grandfather planted still flowering?

          

You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe asserted. But I prefer William Faulkner’s keener insight, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” What can that mean? This is difficult to conceptualize, partly because time is our ocean, but for God, time is a creature, almost simply an function of humanness. It’s hard to point to time, to touch it, even to think about it. Time is a negatively existent concept, in that it exists because other things won’t stand still. Change is the essence of time, time is merely a description, a measurement of change. Time is the moving image of eternity, Plato famously said.

          

There is a time for everything, Solomon said, but there’s also a time for endings. Jesus urges his hearers to work for the night is coming, when no one can work, and the true nature and purpose of time is seen in Paul’s reminder, “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” We are given “time” for a purpose. Use it wisely.

 

Steve Odom has seen 14 springs in Murfreesboro at pastor of Central Christian Church.

 

 

 

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May Newsletter Article

Dear Congregation,

We have all followed the sometimes bleak and sometimes encouraging news on the progress and retreat of the coronavirus and the destruction it has wrought on the lives of too many (in our country over 56,000). And of course there’s also the parallel damage wrought on the livelihoods of millions, potentially more dangerous to human life the longer the economic shutdown lasts.

Many have been encouraged by recent data demonstrating a slowing of death rates and hospitalization rates, even in the hardest hit areas. As a congregation, we have all missed worshipping and studying together since our last meeting on March 15. I have been monitoring other congregations around the country, and most have not yet re-opened for normal worship or class time, though many are in the planning stages, like us.

It’s a day by day judgment call on when should we meet, and it will not be this Sunday. But I hope it will be soon. I’m so grateful that no church members have been sickened by this disease (as far as we know), and grateful for the many who have continued to contribute their tithes and offerings.

Our Financial Secretary, Glenna Waldrep, has continued to make the deposits of gifts mailed in and dropped off. Without Sunday meetings, the giving is down from what it was at the middle of March. On March 15, the giving weekly average was $3,600, and now, as of April 26, it is $3,030 on a weekly average. The weekly needed amount to meet the Budgetary expenses is calculated as $3,622. That rainy day has arrived.

As far as HOW we re-open, we’ll have to do some things differently for a while, especially if it involves touching things.

With regard to taking up an offering: There are two ways to look at this. Most of the time, those in the pew need not touch the offering plate, as a Deacon simply extends it to the giver, and the Deacon can edge into the pew if needed. On the other hand, since we have plenty of plates, we could set up three stands with a plate on them. One in the back by the stairs, one halfway down the aisle on one side, and the same on the other aisle.

 

People can place offerings in a plate on arrival or get up during the Offertory. Then one Deacon could, at the doxology, pick up each plate and bring them forward and hand to me and return to seat (and not stand in front of me while I'm singing.)  I place them on the Lord's Table. This enables us to keep some of the visual/liturgical/action parts of the service operating, with regard to Offering/Communion.

 On Communion, we could still have the loaf and chalice that I use, once again, for the visual/liturgical aspect. I just won't put any of that bread on the trays. The Communion preparer can prepare the trays with gloves and mask and we can have two tables down front for the Elders to place the elements on. On each table would be one tray with juice and one (juice) tray with cups, but the cups can each have a little bread wafer, instead of all mixed on a bread tray that people reach into. May take a little longer that way. Instead of replacing the cup into the tray, we will have a trash can next to each table for the empty cups.

For those with mobility issues, the Elders will be watching, and can bring a tray with both to them, and the cups can be left in the pew cupholders. Perhaps when the last person is served, I partake of the cup with the normal words, and we move into the Closing litany. 

We’ll also have hand sanitizer bottles at each door, as well.

Each person will be encouraged to spread out within the sanctuary, “social distancing,” there will be no hugs or handshakes initially, and if you feel sick, stay home, but let someone know, especially if you live alone.

All your comments and suggestions are welcome, as this is a work in progress.

 

God Bless,

Steve O

DNJ Column 4/26/20

In one way this has nothing to do with the pandemic, and that’s a good thing, right? I’ve heard and read a lot of “fed-up-ness” with the shutdowns, stay-at-home orders and the constant TV news discussions, the little counters on the screen, how many have it, how many have died. But, I said this wasn’t about that. You see how magnetic it is, though, right?

            

Enough. I subscribe to a number of news and opinion aggregators by email, and a disturbing recent story was about a small church in the Midwest. The headline was “Church Growth by Kicking Out Old People.” Had to be The Onion, or the Babylon Bee, I figured. Nope.

            

The headline was entirely accurate. The church is a small congregation, worship is entirely lay-led, overseen by the pastor from another nearby congregation. The small church’s denomination had come up with a $250,000 grant to hire a minister for them and “re-start” the congregation with a physical facelift, PR campaign and new and innovative worship style.

            

The whole project landed with a thud when presented to the congregation, about 30 regulars, most of whom are eligible for Social Security. The congregation was told that older members were asked to “stay away” for 15-18 months during the re-launch, the timetable explained.

“15-18 months after weekly worship is launched at (name) campus — those members of the current campus who are interested in migrating back … can connect with Rev. (Name) about how to best make that transition.”

The current website goes on to say: “The main leadership needs to be connecting with new people, leaving little time to take care of the details—like mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, providing food for hospitality, and setting up and cleaning up.  Even if you might not be in the target demographic, we hope you will still consider being on the Support Squad.”

            

I must say I am a wee bit gobsmacked at the, what do you call this, effrontery, of the proposal. We want your church, we want you to mow the lawns, we want you to help with the garbage, and we want you to keep sending money. But you’re too old to show your face in worship cause you might spook the horses. Does no one see the irony here, of thirty-somethings in essence “taking” a church from their elders? I wonder if they’ve thought about who will take their church from them in 40 years? Perhaps we should re-familiarize ourselves with “The Old Man and His Grandson” from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

            

Trust me, as a graybeard myself (Leviticus 19:32), I know what it is to look around and wonder where all the young folk are. But you were young once. Or, if you’re still young, you’ll be old one day. Is this the way a church, holy cow, folks, a church, treats its own people? Please go away for now, until we can attract a younger crowd who wouldn’t join this church if they saw you and your wrinkles. But, then you can come back, once we’ve suckered in the young folk with hip, with-it music, and candles and play-doh and mazes.

            

Here’s what this has to do with the pandemic (for all this began at that church before the virus arrived). Perhaps the fear of death that has gripped our nation and government for two months is also seen in the attitude toward the elderly by those who don’t really believe (existentially) they’re going to die. The gospel is spoken, as Paul said, “to those who are perishing.” It seems to me that the gray head in church should be a good reminder for all of us that “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.”

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and was born the year the Immigration Center at Ellis Island was closed.

DNJ Column 4/19/20

Did you know you are somewhere on the Bell Curve?  It's a statistical curve shaped like a bell and refers to the normal distribution of "things" in this world. For example, if we measured the height of everybody in the world, there would be a few extremely short people, and a few extremely tall people. The largest number of people would wind up right in the middle, at the top of the curve, for they are the average, and the average, well, that's most of us in one way or another. There's a bell curve for physical attractiveness, a bell curve for longevity of life, a bell curve for strength, if it can be measured, it can be plotted. And normally, if your numbers are large enough, they'll plot as a bell curve.

There's a bell curve for natural ability and intelligence, as well. Some of an individual’s intelligence has to do with all the things we've always heard, your parents, your schooling, etc., but a lot of intelligence depends on how good of a diet you were provided in the first two years of your life. How nutritious and vitamin packed was what you ate in the those first two years? As I say, that's not all that affects intelligence, but it's big and it's measurable. And the worst thing is, you can do nothing about it; for yourself that is. What you eat those first two years depends on your parents' wealth and situation and their understanding about what you should be fed.

And, of course, wealth is on a bell curve. There are people whose wealth is such that they won't even notice the terrible recession we seem to be entering as a result of this coronavirus pandemic. Some people are thrilled when the stock market goes up, but others, if they know what a stock market exactly is, pay no attention at all because they own nothing but a car and some furniture, if that. And some have to rent their furniture. Some large percentage of Americans are said to not be able to deal with an emergency if it were to cost more than $500. Perhaps no credit card, no savings account, no "cushion," when the hard times hit.

 We tend to think: should have saved for a rainy day. And I won't argue with that. Everybody should save for a rainy day. But the simple fact that you READ a newspaper probably puts you on the more educated end of the bell curve. But some people, remember the bell curve, aren't as smart as you, or as wealthy, and they never will be. Their whole life is a rainy day. They will struggle more in this time of enforced joblessness, enforced inability to look for a job, enforced isolation. Their job can't be done from home, and they're prevented, by the government, from going out and looking for a job.

Nourish Food Bank is where we at Central Christian take our Food Bank donations, and maybe your church does as well. They are under a lot of pressure right now and it's going to get worse. What they're focusing on is weekend bags for kids, with things like pop-top cans of ravioli, spaghetti-o’s, Vienna sausages, etc., as well as Ramen noodle, and bags of dried beans for families. They're pretty well supplied with rice for now. If you find Toilet Paper or Hand Sanitizer, they do have clients that can't get to the stores and Nourish is making a lot of home deliveries, so those items would be helpful as well.

You can donate here at the church or take it to the Nourish Office next to the True-Value Hardware on Memorial, behind the old Reeves-Sain Drugs, MWF 10-12 noon.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St. and can be reached at steven.odom@gmail.com

Sermon, April 5, 2020 Luke 19:29-48

The things we’ve learned in the past month are mostly things we never expected or wanted to know. By now we’ve also all become experts, virologists, public health specialists, just by watching the briefings and spending too much time on Facebook.

          The guy at the gas station says he heard that sunlight kills the virus and all this advice to stay indoors is wrong. The lady at the grocery store says everybody needs to drink hot vinegar and lemon juice which will kill the virus in your mouth and throat.

          It was either Mark Twain or Will Rogers who said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.” But our new creed is wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay six feet or more apart.

          Emotions are heightened. We should expect that. We’re told it’s probably going to get worse before it get’s better. I’m reminded of the opening of Kipling’s poem, “If.”

“If you can keep your head when all about you  

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;  

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:..”

 

          If you’re young enough to wonder what it was like for an earlier generation to live and struggle and prevail through the Depression and the WWII, you may find out. You and I just don’t know what the future holds. This applies today, when we’re staring at what we’re afraid the future holds, and it applies 3 months ago, when nobody was worried about viruses and government-imposed shutdowns of the economy.

          The differences are stark. They were stark when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.  “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it,  saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.  For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,  and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

          It seems clear he is speaking from divine foresight, looking to the time of the Roman War in 68-70 AD under Emperor Vespasian. Jesus sees a future that Jerusalem cannot see, and regrets they do not. It’s not that he has some secret international strategy for the nation. No, he means that they don’t know what it is that makes for peace; peace with God, peace with neighbors, peace within. And he ascribes the atrocities to come in 40 years to the cause that they “did not know the time of their visitation.”

          This is a puzzling verse for us 2,000 years later. For we understand the tragic nature of the necessity of the death of Christ for the whole world. We see it from the perspective of our own lives, our faith, the spread of the Good news ever since.

          If they HAD known the “time of their visitation” would that have changed things? And would that be good? I’m assuming that this would mean a recognition of who Jesus was, an acknowledgment of his divine calling, mission and identity. Can we think of this failure to recognize him as somehow a postponement of the Second Coming and the last judgment day? Are the Jews of that day somehow a collective savior of the world, in an odd, unintentional sense?

          Because Jesus was crucified by the cooperation of the Jews and the Romans, we see that the new world, the world promised by the OT prophets, began that morning of the Resurrection.

          Looking back is speculation. Which while it may not profit us to think about what might have been, can still strengthen, comfort, and reassure us about the future, about our future in God’s hands.

          Future is a little misleading as a word, though we don’t have a simple way to replace it. But future, in a secular sense, is just the next tick of the atomic clock that resides in the heart of the sun. The future. The present is always moving, it never stops so we can catch our breath. We’re swinging in a wide circle around the sun as the earth revolves on its axis and the cells of our bodies gradually disintegrate. The aging process is slow enough to allow us the time to love the world God has made, and praise him for it.

          But it also begins to gradually notify us, “this world is not my home.”  At the same time, the Bible teaches us that the Resurrection of Christ is the “first fruits.” In an agricultural setting, that’s the earliest part of the harvest. The metaphor is apt, for the promise is not a promise to turn us into some form of ghostly spirit living in an airy vapor of clouds. Our resurrection is a part of God’s plan for all creation, flawed, damaged by the revolt of humanity as told in Genesis and the rest of the Bible.

          Christians, in a time of existential crisis like the one we face now, sometimes privately, or not so privately, gloat, as it were, that we need not fear death like the rest of the world. We, accurately realize, inchoately perhaps, that an awareness that there is more to life than cellular activity, more to life than “three score and ten, or by reason of strength, four score,” provides a sense and a reality of strength in the face of uncertainty, calm in the face of peril, trust in the face of danger.

          But those unbelievers who strive to preserve life, who strive to hold on to the only goodness they have or perceive, are bearing witness to the goodness of God’s creation. They are saying, with all that they are and have, and all their strength, “this world is glorious, and beautiful, and life itself is the essence of that. Therefore, we should do all that we can to preserve it and make it better.”

          This is partly what Jesus means when he says in response to the Pharisees criticism: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

          God will be praised no matter what, come rain come shine, come feast come famine, come life come death. The world “sings,” cries out, because it is made by God. We’ve heard a lot lately about listening to the science, following the science, obeying the scientists. A genuine “scientific” point of view, would simply assert that a virus is a part of nature, and it has rights on this planet similar to ours, to a chimpanzee, to a worm, to an amoeba. Science, a values-free medium, as has been asserted over and over in prior controversies about science and religion, can only say, the strong survive, the weak do not, everyone dies sooner or later, the sun goes down, the sun comes up again. Science observes and studies and codifies. But to the credit of scientists of a variety of kinds, and secular people in general, they seek for more than that.  

          It’s when we act for the good of others even when we can’t explain it scientifically, that we begin to see the power of God’s creative hand. For we are all made in God’s image. What more perfect picture of that image of God, than the lowest paid employee of Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York going to work every day to mop the floors? At the risk of his or her life. Warren Buffet says only when the tide goes out do you learn who’s been swimming naked. Only in a crisis that really squeezes do you learn what’s inside a person. In difficult times we begin to see the real fruit borne on the trees.

When we ask why? Why should we want to know what science tells us? Why should we care? Why does the knowledge of science matter? Why do we save the life of the disabled newborn, why struggle to save the 90 year old, why work so hard and risk our lives for others? Then, then, if you listen. Carefully. You can hear the stones singing. Do you know that song? Have you heard it before? I think you probably have.

 

 

Daily News Journal Column 4/5/20

Well, last week we all learned what we probably already knew: six more weeks of winter. No, wait! That was Groundhog Day! Which is what this social distancing is starting to feel like for many folks. So much stuff, so many events cancelled. But worst of all, too many deaths, often of those on the frontlines of this battle, doctors and nurses.

          

A crisis this large and sudden, and the response to it, has to have all kinds of political repercussions, and in many ways, though not all, it’s been “politics as usual.” But here’s two things to think about. For almost all of us, we can’t see what’s going on. We can’t see it. I don’t mean because shady deals are going down behind closed doors. I mean we can’t see because of the way we react to bad news, and this event certainly has been that.

          

In the last 20 years, psychologists have learned a lot about what could be called “The Power of Bad,” which is actually the title of John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s new book, subtitled: “How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.” We overreact to bad news, we overestimate its badness, we are more hurt by unkind words than helped by kind ones, we mourn losses in the stock market more intensely than we celebrate gains. On just about every subject, Bad seems to get more press, more attention, more reaction. 

          

But one of the key things to know is the first half of that word: overreaction. We over-do it. Things are not as bad as they seem or we think. Most of us overestimate crime statistics and virtually every indicator of social ill. We always think that things are worse than they are. Except.

          

When asked about ourselves, way more than 50% of us think we’re better than average drivers, better than average investors, better looking than average. Tierney and Baumeister talk about the evolutionary origin of these behaviors and the advantage they conferred. While I’m not arguing with any of that, I still hear a man say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”

          

Most of us feel like the end of April is an eternity away, but it will be here before you can even get ready for it. Remember how Christmas snuck up on you last year? This is nothing. Some of you enjoyed being in the Boy Scouts as kids, but I liked best about the hikes and camping trips was when they were over. I was so much more appreciative of hot showers, soft beds and my mother’s cooking after a Scout trip. No sand in my shoes, not roots poking me in the back, and no ashes in my food.

          

But really the way things have been going, because of the absence of vaccines and viable therapies and the seeming suddenness of its advent, this pandemic could have been worse than the Spanish Flu of a century ago.

          

So say it with me: This is the day that Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Steve Odom is developing a backlog of undelivered sermons and looking forward to Easter Parade at Central Christian Church on East Main St.  

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/2/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/1/2020

Never understood the whole "coloring books for grownups" trend of a couple of years ago, but in times like these, it's better than binge drinking or watching "Tiger King" or many other offerings available. So to help you find something to color, I include a link to a public domain coloring book. It's from a fun website called the Public Domain Review, referencing stuff that's so old it's gone out of copyright. Here's how they describe this offering.

 

We wanted to do something for the PDR community in these strange and (for most) mainly house-bound times, and so we made you a colouring book — free to download and print off at home. In addition to the colourable cover, we've chosen twenty images from a wide range of artists, including Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, Harry Clarke, Virginia Frances Sterrett, Jessie M. King, and Aubrey Beardsley. Arranged in vague order of difficulty — from a simple 17th-century kimono pattern to an intricate thousand-flowered illustration — we hope there is something for all ages and colouring prowess!

 

Announcing the PDR Colouring Book! Free to Download and Print Off at Home

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/31/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

April Caller Article 4/1/2020

Today, March 29, we all learned what we probably expected, that the “social distancing” will not end April 3, as some thought and hoped, but will extend several more weeks. The daily death rate did drop yesterday, but it’s too soon to know if that’s significant long term.

Many things in our community and country have come to a screeching halt, some from common sense, others by government mandate.  We have cancelled Sunday worship, the Sunday morning, evening and Monday evening classes, the Old Retired Guys breakfasts, the DWM/CWF meetings and the Square Dances.

Our daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the church basement, which lately has had less than 10 attending anyway, continues, at their request, 1.) because they’ve requested to continue, and 2.) because AA saves lives, especially in a time of heightened anxiety and increased alcohol consumption. Please pray for them. They meet very spread out in the basement, and wipe all surfaces each morning.

But coming up is our DIY Prayer Vigil, our Share the Peace project, the continuing weekly Walk Through Worship (let me know if you know someone in church who hasn’t been receiving these), and we have plans for an Easter Parade!

Well, not really a parade, but we are going to invite the whole neighborhood to come out Easter morning, park in our lot, and “parade” up and down Main St., wear your finest Easter Bonnet and FaceMask, (if you have one!) stay 10 feet away from everyone and bring your dog(s).  We won’t be taking up an offering, but if your dog makes a deposit you’re encouraged to take it with you! No buildings will be open, no hugs will be offered and no hands will be shook (shaken?). We will have a table near the parking lot for anyone to share cleaning supplies, TP, and staples for others. All items left behind will go to the Nourish Food Bank after being wiped down.

Hope to see you there. It’s been too long.

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/30/2020

It is told that in every generation there are times when hope threatens to leave this world. At such times, the Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic, would go into a secret place in the forest. There he would light a special fire and say a holy prayer speaking the long-forgotten most sacred name of God.The danger was averted and hope stayed alive.

In later times when disaster threatened, the Maggid of Mezrich, his disciple, would go to the same place in the forest and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can say the prayer." 

Still later, his disciple, Moshe Leib of Sasov, would go to the same place in the forest and say,, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire or say the prayer, but I found my way to this place, and that must be enough." And it was. Hope stayed alive.

And later when Israel of Rizhyn needed intervention from heaven, he sat in his chair with his head in his hands and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I no longer know how to light the fire nor how to say the prayer, I can't even find our way to that place, but I can tell the story and that must be enough." And it was.

And it still is. As long as stories are told, hope stays in the world.

DNJ Column 3/29/20

I haven’t heard anyone on the news outlets referring to the corona-virus pandemic that is suddenly shutting down our economy, and others, as a “plague,” but I am starting to see writers and bloggers draw attention to previous pandemics and plagues.

          

Many have referenced the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009-10, and the SARS corona-virus outbreak in 2003, which killed, respectively, an estimated 284,000 worldwide and 774 worldwide. The SARS had a much higher case fatality rate, but it did not spread as quickly and easily.

          

Most of us learned in history class of the Bubonic Plague (widely known as the Black Death) from the Middle Ages (1348-1350). Spread mainly by fleas from infected rodents and other mammals, yersinia pestis, as the bacillus is known, killed an estimated 40% of Europe’s population, and Europe as a whole took more than two centuries to return to pre-plague levels; England over four centuries.

          

There was no one keeping many medical records back then, so no real clear case fatality rate emerges, but anecdotally, it seems that some, though relatively few, recovered from the infection while others seemed to have some sort of natural immunity. The Bubonic Plague, which seems to have entered the Mediterranean world through trade along the Silk Road, the ancient traders’ route to China, changed the European world permanently, and came hard on the heels of a decades long period of climate change (the “Little Ice Age”) beginning around 1300.

          

The world’s population had grown in the warming period from 950-1250, but after that there was widespread hunger throughout those first three decades of the 14th century. Most Europeans suffered greatly during this period, especially the “peasants,” who were 95% of the population, having no reserves of food, livestock or seed stock after the first year. 1316 was known as the Year of No Summer, and accordingly, no crops. Those who survived the famine were weakened by the widespread pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis that followed the time of famine, and thus were not immunologically ready for the Plague of 1348.

          

The Great Plague was not the first, just the best known in European history. There had been others, beginning in with the Antonine Plague in 165 AD under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Plague of Cyprian (250-266 AD) and the Plague of Justinian (541-550 AD). Modern epidemiological historians consider that each of these had the same vector as that of the Bubonic Plague, arriving from the East along the Silk Road as a result of trade. What exactly these plagues were is not entirely clear, until Justinian, which is thought to be the first entry of the Bubonic Plague (yersinia pestis) into European history. Earlier outbreaks could have been cholera, typhus or smallpox. Historians differ.

          

Currently there has been back and forth from China and the US on who’s the source of the current pandemic, and even charges from one Chinese official that the US intentionally unleashed this virus.

          

In a crisis people act and speak under pressure and often without careful consideration. Historians will decide what this is called in the future, the Xi Virus, the Trump Virus, the 2020 Pandemic, COVID-19. Whatever we call it, I think there’s some wisdom, once we’re through the worst of this and the vulnerable are safe and healthy, in thinking harder about the porosity of borders and the fluidity of trade. Different populations seem to have different immunities, to wit, the native Americans of the 16th century, who died from a host of European infectious diseases after the time of Columbus.

          

At a national level, our government should act in the best interests of this country in being more careful about who enters the country and whether they have to have vaccinations and certifications about their current and prior health. We apparently didn’t learn enough from the Bird Flu, the SARS, the MERS, or the H1N1 Outbreaks. I’m thinking, hoping, we’ll remember this one.

Steve Odom is pastor Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, which is not meeting for worship today.

Daily News Journal Column March 22, 2020

 

Dear Lord,

          

Today I pray for people I’ve never met and whose names I don’t know, but you do. I’m thinking about a little boy, old enough to watch the news, home now from school all day, and the news is all about the Coronavirus and people dying. What is he thinking is going to happen? What does he think about at night? I pray for this young boy, Lord.

          

I pray for a young mother of three who’s been managing a restaurant since her divorce, and just learned that it’s going to have to close down. She’s wondering where to go and what to do, and how long the money and the food will hold out. I pray for her, Lord.

          

There’s a 20-year old member of the National Guard in New Rochelle, NY right now, Lord, who’s serving his country and his community, but is near people diagnosed with the virus. He wonders what happens at night when he goes home, or visits his parents. I pray for him and for his safety and those he protects.

          

In Ohio there’s an 80 year old widower who lives with his disabled son, whom he has to take to the doctor regularly. He’s worried about dying before he can provide for his son. Who will care for, who will love his son when he’s gone?

          

There’s a Chinese Uighur detained in an internment camp in Western China for “re-education.” I don’t know anything about these people, Lord. I’m told China thinks they’re a threat to national security because they’re radical Muslims. This could be true, but they’ve broken no law, they’re in crowded unsanitary conditions in the camps, as are Syrian refugees, and refugees in Burundi, and the Congo, and in Central America. I pray for them and for the many aid workers of the United Nations Refugee Commission.

          

I pray for our mailman Lord. He’s being careful with gloves and other measures, but he handles packages and letters constantly from all over the country, and the world. He sorts it, and picks up outgoing mail, and his work is essential to the lives of so many people, delivering prescription drugs and other things essential to the health of many. I pray for his safety.  

          

I pray for politicians today. Federal and state and local. I pray for politicians who stand up at press conferences where reporters yell at them and snidely accuse them, and set verbal traps for them. I pray for these politicians, and for public health officials and public health workers, who are at risk every day. I pray for the scientists at work on a vaccine for the virus.

          

And I pray for the widow with no children who lives alone with her TV. I pray for her fear, her loneliness, her health, her ability to find food in a time of induced scarcity. I pray for myself, Lord, and others, that we will be patient when our routines are disrupted. That we will be understanding of those who will be blamed when outcomes go wrong. I pray for police officers and those on dispatch who are dealing with all kinds of craziness right now, for when people are scared, or confused, or angry, they call the police, not knowing what else to do. Give them patience as well, Lord, and protect them.

          

Protect the nurses, and doctors, and truck drivers, and grocery store employees, and the farmers. And fill us with your wisdom, Lord, that we may not miss this opportunity to learn how much we depend on each other, and on individuals we don’t know, and perhaps wouldn’t like if we did know them. And bless those who remember that rule to live by, that we might treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. In Jesus’ name, who gave himself for others. Amen

Steve Odom feels fine right now, and is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St.

 

DNJ Column March 15, 2020

 

Some of you remember the last big Oil Crisis of the 1970s. How enraged we were when gasoline prices crossed $0.50 a gallon! And then, five years later it got worse, approaching $1.00 per gallon! I had a good friend at the time, who said, perhaps a bit precipitately, “If it gets to a dollar a gallon, I just won’t buy any gas!”

          

We’re all kinda like that sometimes. We like big talk. We talk back to the TV news as if CNN or Fox, etc., are afraid of us. We boast, “He better not try that with me or he won’t know what hit him!” We hear national figures say things like that. I liked Schumer’s obviously off-the-cuff attempt to trash talk the Supreme Court. The funny part was the mash up of metaphors. You can, of course, “release the Kraken!” Though that might have limited applicability and recognition. You can sow the wind, and “reap” the whirlwind, which, maybe, was what he was getting at. But I never heard of “releasing the whirlwind.” Schumer’s rhetoric was of course directed at the two newest Justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, regarding their upcoming vote on an abortion case on the docket. Kavanaugh had used similar language when he described the frenzy of criticism at his confirmation hearings, though he at least got the phrasing right. He said at the time: “You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”

          

I honestly think Schumer, in the heat of the moment, with an adoring crowd, didn’t really intend to physically threaten, or call for assassination of Federal officials. But this is why it’s always important to be careful with our language. My friend got a little heated, but the dollar price was crossed, and, well, he kept on driving to work.

          

It seems to bother some people that the Oil Industry is such a large part of the world economy, but really and truly there is a direct line between improving health and wealth (and the two always go together) in the last 150 years and the rise of the modern oil industry, which drives everything related to transportation, as well as chemistry, pharmaceuticals, etc.

         

It’s an easy bet that you and I are alive because of men like James Young, Edward Binney, Abraham Gesner and Ignaz Lukasiewicz. There are hundreds of people who contributed to our abilities to abstract, refine and develop the uses of petroleum in things like antihistamines, insecticides, soap, cortisone, fertilizer, antifreeze, detergent, ammonia, toothpaste, etc.

          

So it feels a little weird now that Saudi Arabia, who fifty years ago wouldn’t pump more oil, and drove the scarcity crisis of the ‘70s, now is part of the new oil crisis because they’re producing too much oil (along with Russia). Historically high stock market valuations, the COVID-19 epidemic, the aforementioned oil crisis have all contributed to the intensification of the recent stock market correction. Which may turn around, on a dime, by the time you read this. Or not.

          

It’s the upsidedown-ness of today compared to 1974-79 that caught my attention. We couldn’t get enough oil 50 years ago and so there was a crisis. We have too much oil now and so there’s a crisis. I suppose supply and demand drives a great deal of this. Along with our inability to predict the future, of course.

          

The French say, in their inimitable way, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it really seems more like to me, “the longer you live the more everything seems to be upside down and backward.” If I could put that in French, I’m sure it would be more convincing.

          

What I can’t get used to is Republicans spending money like there’s no tomorrow, and Democrats wringing their hands about Russians. See my invented phrase above. 

 

If you’re French, please send steven.odom@gmail.com a translation of his invented aphorism. Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church.

DNJ Column 3/1/20

Henry Wallace was an Iowa farmer who edited a journal, Wallace’s Farmer, still published today. An adept businessman, he founded the very successful “Hi-Bred Corn Co”. In 1932 he was a supporter of FDR, who appointed him Secretary of Agriculture (1933-40). In 1940, FDR made it clear he wanted Wallace as VP and he was nominated by the party and won election as the second VP under FDR. Famously, FDR had never announced his own intentions, but the party nominated him anyway. In the election of ’44, Wallace was pushed out by the party in favor of Harry Truman to serve as FDR’s VP for his last term.

 

In the parlance of the day, Wallace was too “red.” At one point he had said, “both the American and Russian revolutions were part of the march of freedom of the past 150 years.”  He had been a very active and effective VP, and his deep involvement in the war effort on many levels led to some referring to him as the “Assistant President.” His long tenure at Agriculture in the 30s, developing it into the largest of Federal departments at the time, prepared him for his role during the war.

 

But he was economically to the left of FDR, which took some doing, and his viewpoint re: the USSR and its policies was the main reason he was booted off the ticket in 1944. (Impressively, Wallace was nonetheless a vigorous and public supporter of FDR in the ’44 election. FDR rewarded him with the position of Secretary of Commerce.). All during the war, Wallace had enthusiastically boosted Stalin and his policies, lauding the successes of his notorious “five-year plans.”

 

In early 1944 Wallace toured the USSR and the Gulag (forced-labor camps) and sounded impressed with the sanitized version of the camps the Russians presented to him.  At the Kolyma gold mine labor camp, where over 16,000 laborers had died in 1942 alone, all the barbed wire was removed, the starving “zeks” shipped off to other camps, and healthy-looking NKVD officers brought in to take their place while Wallace was there. Wallace was impressed and said they were “big, husky men,” who he supposed had “come out to the Far East from European Russia.” He later said the camps, which to everyone else were obvious Potemkin Villages, were like a “combination Tennessee Valley Authority and Hudson’s Bay Company.” Except for the mass graves, of course.

 

Why he was so gullible, I don’t know. True, we were “allies” with the USSR against Germany and Japan. True, many others were fooled as well. But it seems to me, someone near the very top of government, like Wallace, might have been more alert, more perspicacious.

 

But give Henry Wallace credit. Unlike many fellow travelers of our era, who, when the USSR collapsed in 1991 never apologized, never admitted their mistakes, Wallace came out boldly in 1952, in an article in The Week entitled, “Where I Was Wrong.” In this article Wallace honorably stated: “More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil…What I wanted was peace, but not peace at the price of Communist domination. I thought the Soviets had more sense than to do what they have been doing during the past few years. There I was proved wrong by subsequent events.”

 

Had Wallace known more of the Soviets’ history, he might have been more wary. Instructively, it’s an old Russian proverb that say, “Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye; forget the past and you'll lose both.”  Henry Wallace. An honorable man. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”  Sometimes good people make bad decisions. And vice versa. That’s only one reason why politics is complicated, and reasonable people disagree.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and every day tries to balance first on his left leg and then on his right.

March Caller Article

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.

 

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

 

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and

grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

         

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

 

1.       All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.       Worship of idols, of persons.

3.       Rash oath, and curse.

4.       Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.       Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.       Strife and wrath.

7.       Passion and corruption.

8.       Indolence and fraud.

9.       Lying and injuriousness.

10.     Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.       To be religious and pious.

2.       To worship and serve.

3.       To bless and swear truly.

4.       To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.       Affection and obedience.

6.       Patience and good temper.

7.       Purity and soberness.

8.       Contentedness and goodness.

9.       Truth and incorruptness.

10.     Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

DNJ Column, 2/23/20

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.”

          

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

         

 It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

          

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

          

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

1.    All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.    Worship of idols, of persons.

3.    Rash oath, and curse.

4.    Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.    Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.    Strife and wrath.

7.    Passion and corruption.

8.    Indolence and fraud.

9.    Lying and injuriousness.

10. Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.    To be religious and pious.

2.    To worship and serve.

3.    To bless and swear truly.

4.    To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.    Affection and obedience.

6.    Patience and good temper.

7.    Purity and soberness.

8.    Contentedness and goodness.

9.    Truth and incorruptness.

10. Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

Steve Odom’s favorite is Café Verona, and he’s the pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

DNJ Column February 16, 2020

 

In the late eighties, I started a Shakespeare Reading Group at my neighborhood church in Washington, D.C. We met twice a month in the church basement around a few tables and read our assigned parts in whatever play was up that night. These are called “Readers’ Theatres.” I had sent out press releases to theatre groups in the area, looking for some really good readers to make it fun for the rest of us and a few showed up. It was still going when I left in ’93 and lasted for a good while.

 

While I was there a reporter from the DC “City Paper” came by to interview me, and it was a young woman named Jennifer Senior, who seemed only recently out of college. She wrote quite a snappy, clever, humorous article, using an ingenious series of Shakespeare quotes to head her paragraphs.

Years later I see there’s a Jennifer Senior writing for the NY Times and it looks like the same person, albeit three decades later. She seems, from her articles, to be a standard progressive/liberal politically and culturally, though she is taking some risks.

 

The risks are in the way she’s recently pushed back against the wokeness of “cancel culture.” This is perilous for folk in her position, for the Op/Ed page of the NYT is the pinnacle of catbird seats, and how art the mighty fallen is more than just a Bible quote. So kudos to Senior for speaking up.

Her speaking up was in in opinion column on Teen Fiction and Cancel Culture from last March, when she narrated the “smack down” of a YA Fiction author, Kosoko Jackson, who had written a novel on the Yugoslav implosions of the early ‘90s. The irony is that Jackson, who is black and gay, had, in Senior’s words, “worked as a ‘sensitivity reader’ for major publishing houses, which meant his job was to flag just the sort of problem content for which he was now being run out of town. He was Robespierre with his own neck in the cradle of the guillotine.”

 

She pushes her critique further by saying, “What happened to Jackson is frightening. Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” What I’m wondering is if there are younger staffers that are eyeing this aging Millennial while sharpening their knives. Watch your back, Jennifer.

 

It’s encouraging to see that there are liberals with enough self-awareness to know that “The Revolution ends by devouring its own children." And she’s not alone. George Packer is a writer for the Atlantic and penned a long piece on the contradictions, years ago, in trying to get his children into New York City private pre-schools that charge tuition of app. $50,000 and critique two-year-old applicants’ crayon scribbles as if they were essays written to get into college.

 

Lately, Packer’s kids have been obsessed with the Broadway show Hamilton, His daughter was shocked to learn that the Founding Fathers weren’t black. His son’s woke public school taught him all about China and the Mayans, and the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. But he wistfully notes that he wishes his son were taught more civics.  “He was never taught about the founding of the republic. He didn’t learn that conflicting values and practical compromises are the lifeblood of self-government…He got his civics from Hamilton.”

 

Only negatives seem to be acceptable when teaching history nowadays. Packard says that the students are not encouraged “to research their topics, make intellectual discoveries, answer potential counterarguments.” In essence it’s a training in political activism.

I remember cutting turkeys out of construction paper and drawing Pilgrims with funny hats. What do your kids bring home from school?

 

Steve Odom went to school in Florida where there was no A/C, no sharp points on the scissors, and the coaches walked around with wooden paddles hung from their wrists by leather thongs.

DNJ Column2/9/20

 

What is the scariest thing you can remember? Mark Helprin, an award-winning American novelist and short story writer, wrote “In Sunlight and Shadow,” which I’m currently half-way through. If Helprin is not America’s greatest living novelist, I don’t know who would be. But anyway, in the novel I’m reading, the main character, Harry, is a WWII vet and a paratrooper, (the story is set in the late ‘40s) who, in remembering the invasion of Sicily describes his last sight of his buddy in the jump plane who’s cut in half by the flak that hit them right before they jumped. Scary stuff.

          

I recall taking out the garbage at my childhood home in Tallahassee one time. I had to walk the can out to the street, and the neighborhood back then in the early ‘70s, was very dark, and it was late at night. Going out was no problem, but walking back to the house was an entirely different feeling. The driveway was less than 30 yards, but as I grew closer to the house things got more and more creepy. I heard nothing, saw nothing, but it was a weird feeling. I started walking faster, and by the time I got to the back door I was actually running. I stopped at the door, I guess I’d reached safety in my mind, and looked around, slowed my breathing, and stepped back in the house. Never told anyone.

          

I remember another occasion, at the same house, while I was in college, I experienced a very severe and realistic episode of sleep paralysis. In my dream, which is how that works, I couldn’t move or get away, and was in some sort of plaza with an outdoor fountain in the middle of it. Sitting on the edge of the fountain was a figure dressed in a black cloak and hood facing away from me. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t look away, but I somehow knew that figure was going to turn and look at me and the prospect was somehow unbearable.

          

Time in a dream or nightmare is very elastic, and as this figure turned toward me with infinite slowness, I began, in the dream, repeating to myself, “The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins. The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins….” I don’t know how many times I said that, or where I had learned to say that, but, as we used to say, boy heckfire, I was scared. Suddenly I woke up before the figure could turn toward me. You know how they used to spell relief? (R-O-L-A-I-D-S) Not me. That episode made me look at the reality of the spiritual world with new eyes, especially the power of the name of Jesus.

          

But to be truthful the scariest moment in my life was after my brother and I took our new leather horsewhips that our parents bought for us on a vacation to the Smokies in the ‘50s, and while Mom was inside with the new baby, Chuck and I tried ‘em out on the clean sheets she had hanging on the clothesline in the back yard. Wow was that a bad idea. Fun, but stupid. The whips were already fairly dirty and the Duval county mud didn’t help any, and that was where the chickens wandered as well.

          

Mom didn’t do anything to us. After she discovered our High Crimes, all she said was, “When your father gets home, he’s going to take those horsewhips and give you boys a whipping!” Dad was a pretty serious sort of guy, and a stern father, so we had no reason to doubt her. Holy cow was I scared.

          

Oddly enough I don’t remember what happened. We were hiding when Dad came home. It probably occurred to him that he’d bought the things and he argued for our acquittal.

         

 “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” the old hymn goes. And isn’t that the truth!

 

Steve Odom “lost” that horsewhip somewhere along the way, but is now pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

 

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